Hunky “superhero” (god, in this case)?: Check.
Comely damsel, somewhat in distress?: Check.
Appropriately oily/underhanded villain? Check.
Easily arrived-at moral? Check.
Lots of shiny colors, action, explosions?: Check.
Yep. As you can see, Thor fulfills all requirements for a summer blockbuster/comic book hero origin story. We’ve got our hunky (and surprisingly likeable) hero in young Chris Hemsworth, whose physique nearly puts all those guys in 300′s to shame, newly minted Oscar winner Natalie Portman as a refreshingly nerdy love interest, a wonderfully sly villain (Tom Hiddleston, more on him later), and all of the other stuff you expect from your first summer blockbuster of the season. That includes some slow-moving exposition, a rather Swiss cheese-like plot, a disappointing final fight sequence (see: Iron Man), and plenty of teasers and lead-ins for not only a sequel, but the upcoming Avengers film as well.
Thor (Hemsworth) is the blustery, loves-to-fight elder son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), head of the Norse gods of Asgard. Yeah, they’re gods. That this is weird in the realm of mutants, rich eccentrics with expensive toys, and accidents with scary chemicals/substances is a favorite topic of conversation at Banana Oil HQ. Anyway. Thor is poised to be named Odin’s official heir, but his father decides that he is too headstrong and hasty to be king just yet. When Odin’s old enemies, the Frost Giants, apparently break a long-standing peace, Thor immediately runs off to take them all on along with his pals Sif (Jaime Alexander), the warriors three (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, and Josh Dallas), and his younger brother, Loki (Hiddleston). As you might expect, it doesn’t go well. In a fit of pique, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth, at least until he learns some humility.
On Earth, Thor bumps into Jane Foster (Portman), her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, mentor-ish), and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings, nearly stealing the show).They’re studying what I think turns out to be the Bifrost, which is the Asgardians’ means of traveling between worlds (this is never made entirely clear). Naturally, they all get dragged into Thor’s attempts to get home, SHIELD’s attempts to figure out what Thor (and his hammer, Mjolnir)’s deal is, and the eventual Asgardian showdown. And Thor and Jane fall in love. Of course.
MEANWHILE, Odin collapses and Loki takes over the throne of Asgard. What follows is a complex plot to start war with the Frost Giants AND make sure that Thor stays out of Loki’s way, permanently. But of course, none of that comes to pass, and at the end of the movie, peace is restored (for the time being), Thor is reinstated, Odin’s alright, and we’re all set up for half a dozen more movies.
Did you get all that? It’s kind of a lot. There’s a ton of exposition, and Thor is rather a bit longer than a lot of the superhero films we’re used to. Having said all that, though, it’s pretty enjoyable, due mostly in part to the acting.
Hemsworth managed a whole lot better than I expected and was really quite funny and charming, particularly as the non-reformed Thor of the early parts of the film. Portman brings a little bit more personality and humanity to the usual superhero’s gal trope, Skarsgard is always enjoyable, and Kat Dennings is really fun, providing the snark and witty asides. Anthony Hopkins is phoning it in, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and Colm Feore, as the king of the Frost Giants, is appropriately evil. Idris Elba as the powerful guardian of the Bifrost, Heimdall, is excellent. It’s always fun to see Clark Gregg as SHIELD’s Agent Coulson, and fans with sharp eyes (haha, get it?) will be excited to see a brief appearance by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye (he’ll feature more prominently in The Avengers).
The best part of the story, and its biggest problem, in my opinion, are one and the same: the marvelous Loki. Tom Hiddleston walks away with this movie. He is by turns sullen, sly, touching, and really rather creepily evil, and he’s riveting every time he’s on screen. It’s a great performance, and I hope to see more of Hiddleston in the future (He’s in Midnight in Paris, the trailer I posted recently). The problem, though, is that the story really doesn’t do him justice. I’ll try not to give too much away, but Loki’s plot is ultimately confusing and inefficient, and his motives are … well, stupid. I guess I can’t say much more than that.
It’s become slightly common for superhero movies to be fun and exciting and then sort of fail in the climax, and this one is no exception. Director Kenneth Branagh does a pretty good job throughout, but I would say that the last 20 minutes or so are a disappointment. It’s as though some bigwig came in and reminded him that this was all a set-up for future movies, so he needed to wrap it up and just leave certain things open. But, as blockbusters go, it’s still a fun one. Perhaps a tad on the long side, given that Thor’s origins are a bit more complex than some, but for the most part you don’t mind. It’s shiny and fun to look at, it’s funny quite often, and the acting is, across the board, much better than a lot of superhero movies. I’d definitely recommend it, and it gives me a little more hope for The Avengers, due next year. It’s definitely “worth a look.”
Oh, and a friendly reminder, since there were people in the theater with us who obviously didn’t know the rules: it’s a Marvel film. It will probably be worth your while to stick around after the credits. Just sayin’.