After a ten-year break from directing, Kenneth Branagh has scored big with international hit Thor. The movie retcons the history of Marvel’s Thor, key member of the eponymous team in 2012’s The Avengers. The action/superhero film stars Chris Hemsworth‘s abs*, and has been #1 for two weeks in a row here in the U.S.
As an early runner for this summer blockbuster season, Thor has set a high standard for the next few months. The movie was fun, energetic, visually arresting, and adequately epic in nature. It ran light on emotions, but there really wasn’t time enough for too much depth.
The purpose of this film was to set up the backstory for Thor, the character, so that audiences would understand, recognize, and automatically invest in the character when he appears in The Avengers.
Well, that was one of the purposes anyway. The other purpose was to make an obscene amount of money for everyone involved. Purpose fulfilled on that front.
This film’s version of Marvel’s Thor creates a being of legend, while still placing him in a world rooted in science (albeit science more advanced than Earth’s). It’s simple to see how this Thor could integrate into The Avengers, and the rushed love triangle of Sif-Thor-Jane Foster has already developed sufficiently. It’s difficult to look at the film as a separate entity, when it is so clearly simply one part in a long sequence of films Paramount and Marvel have made/are making/intend to make.
That said, that sequence of films has included breakout successes (Iron Man, anyone?) and more mediocre installments (The Incredible Hulk). Thor has been a financial success, but that’s to be expected of a superhero film at the start of summer, with attractive stars and good special effects. Thor has been a critical success (for the most part), because the film is actually good.
Chris Hemsworth plays a loveable Thor, in the mode of the dull but earnest high school jock. He’s appropriately larger than life in the scenes on Earth, where the fish out of water shtick was consistently funny. Natalie Portman‘s Jane Foster was, well, a classic Natalie Portman character: sensitive, tightly wound, doe-eyed. To say that there was no chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman would be untrue. However, to say that there was little chemistry, or that the film didn’t allow enough time to make the romance believable, is another matter entirely.
Anthony Hopkins‘s Odin was the most effortlessly created portrayal in the film. Hopkins lacked the self-conscious nature of much of the rest of the cast. Take, for example, Kat Dennings‘s sarcastic teen cliché or Tom Hiddleston‘s jealous younger brother trope. Of course, the script didn’t leave much room for nuance. Every line spoken by Darcy Lewis (Dennings) was scripted from MTV, including complaints about her iPod.
Thor‘s Loki was so obviously sinister that it was clear after his first appearance that he was a villain. This can’t be entirely Hiddleston‘s fault. Costuming and makeup left no surprises. There were also far too many scenes in which the camera panned quickly from Thor to Loki, creating a direct and obvious contrast between the golden boy and his dark brother. I’m interested in seeing how the character will develop in The Avengers, under Joss Whedon‘s direction, with a Joss Whedon script. Much of Whedon‘s previous work has also been epic in nature, but even in his epics, there is a thin line between good and evil, and alliances form and shift in unpredictable manners.
Thor included some stylistic choices on the part of the director, that were intriguing but not exactly thinly veiled. When Thor first touches down on Earth, the shots of Earth start askew, feeding the audience feelings of disconnect mirroring Thor’s. As the Norse god grows accustomed to humanity and Earth, the camera steadies and we see fewer and fewer shots not set on an even keel. A good technique to introduce a tone of uncertainty, but a little distracting for the eye.
Speaking of distractions for the eye, I was pleasantly surprised by the detail and unobtrusiveness of the Asgard setting. I watched the film in 2D, and I can see how the settings could naturally flow into a 3D viewing experience.
*Best part of the movie, for most female and gay male audiences: