Friday, May 6, 2011

Review - Thor

Son of Odin, Thor believes himself ready to take the throne of Asgard but after his arrogance and temper break a truce between the Frost Giants and the Asgardians, Thor finds himself cast out of Asgard and banished to Earth leaving his half-brother Loki next in line for the throne. Now stripped of his powers, Thor must learn humility in order to gain back his title as the God of thunder.

Thor could be one of the trickiest Marvel heroes to bring to the big screen. He has a truckload of backstory not to mention his origin dips into established Norse mythology. As a comic character alone, he has had a number of incarnations. He is always bouncing back and forth between Earth and Asgard leaving Marvel Studios a mighty hill to climb in order to tell his origin in one complete action film. Adding to the laundry list of things needed to be included in "Thor," Marvel Studios is also building up to a team-up movie, "The Avengers." So this film must also include a bridge to the Avengers universe. These were aspects that the brass at Marvel, the screenwriters and director Kenneth Branagh had to consider going in. Drop the ball and it could lead to a major disaster for Marvel. Luckily, Marvel did not drop the ball with "Thor," they do fumble the ball around a bit, but they do enough to satisfy the longtime Thor fan in me.

Growing up Thor was one of my favorite Marvel characters. Now I had a lot of favorite comic books, but I loved that a God was also a superhero in Marvel's universe. Not only was this God/superhero fighting on planets we would normally only imagine about but he was also fighting right here on Earth. Thor protected everyone, not just one particular city. This always left potential for a wide variety of adventures that spanned across the galaxy. Endless potential. In comic book form that potential is a big time bonus, but in a singular film that is meant to be scaffolded towards a team up movie as well as establishing a character's backstory, it can be a pretty substantial detractor. Simply, there is so much to tell but too little time to tell it in. Taking all of that into consideration, I think the screenwriting team did a decent job of creating the mythology behind Thor in the world Marvel has been trying to establish since "Iron Man" released back in 2008. By no means do I think they did a great job, but I think they did a fair job of setting up the beginnings to Thor. This film will give newbies enough to chew on while also satisfying more established fans of the Marvel hero.

One thing I can praise without any hesitation is the performances by Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. With the script and story of "Thor" being mainly origin and setup, the performances in the film are extremely pivotal. Hemsworth and Hiddleston pull off fabulous portrayals. These guys are spot-on. Hemsworth evokes all the arrogance, charm and sex appeal you'd expect from Thor while Hiddleston is sinister and villainous through and through as Loki. Though to his credit, Hiddleston sucks you in from the onset as Loki, while I felt I had to warm up a bit to Thor. Those feelings should be intended however. We are introduced to Thor as a returning warrior ready to have his coronation and he comes across very full of himself. Sure he's still got a particular flare that makes him likable, but he starts off very smug. Remember a huge aspect to Thor becoming a true hero is learning humility and Hemsworth nails that transition without error. Hemsworth also hammers home the comedic timing. I can't wait to see more of Thor jawing away. Particularly when he and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) can finally have some exchanges.

A big point I took issue with is Loki, the God of mischief. Not the performance because as previously said, Tom Hiddleston really is a god send to the Marvel villain universe, but the character Marvel Studios is establishing within this origin/setup story. It has been established that Loki is evil however, "Thor" tends to throw that legend right out the window. Oddly, no one in Asgard suspects that Loki is a villain even though that is his pre-existing mythology. I'm all for believing that "Thor" is introducing this legend as a new but on Earth, there are moments that point exactly to the pre-existing lore. Folklore that has been handed down generations ago. There is one moment in particular where we see Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) pick up a book of Norse mythology and turn past the page about Loki. I was begging for Thor to pick up the book and say, "Oh crap, my half brother Loki is the God of mischief, wonder if he has anything to do with this string of bad events?" We never get that moment but instead we wait while the Asgardians catch-up to stuff we knew going in. I could be reading too far into this, maybe a solid majority of people unfamiliar with Thor will be just as surprised as the characters seem to be when Loki makes his reveal, but I seriously doubt it.

One thing I did worry about was the balance between Asgard and Earth. How would Marvel handle a varied history with the God of thunder? Thor has had an alter-ego in Donald Blake on Earth whom he could change back and forth between. He has also vagabonded between Earth and Asgard defending whomever needed him. We've also seen the story arc used here in the feature film with Thor stripped of his powers and cast down to Earth by his father to learn humility play out. Outside of a few minor gripes, I really felt the blend between both worlds or realms (as they are called in Thor mythos) was very good. We never spent too much time in either world and there was plenty of development continuing throughout both of them. Essentially the audience has two arcs to follow. Thor on Earth, which is mixed with a needless love story between Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor as well as the further set up of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then the struggle in Asgard. The fish out of water aspect to Thor on Earth worked real well for me (even though not that much actually happens). There is plenty of comic relief that comes directly from Thor's behavior and demeanor. There is also a fair amount coming from the people around him like Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Jane Foster who seem infatuated every time Thor is in their presence.

My complaint with the Asgard and other foreign realms is some of the CG just fell flat for me. I really don't have a complaint about the scale or scope, Asgard itself looked fantastic. I saw the film in 3D IMAX-D and felt that Asgard was the only aspect of the film that felt worthy of being projected in such a format. The rest just felt as though it could have been done better. Marvel Studios and Paramount made a killing on the success of "Iron Man" as well as "Iron Man 2" and it would have been nice to have seen that carried through in all of the CG. The Frost Giants are a good example of this. We see Thor and the Warrior's Three completely devoured by a total CG world and it just comes across less than impressive. The blend of CG and real environments or sets worked fine, like in Odin's throne room, along the Rainbow Bridge or even in the Bifrost but when all we have is pure CG and green screens, the action lost the clap in its thunder.

When all is said and done I enjoyed "Thor" quite a bit. Not as much as I'd hoped to, but enough that I didn't walk away upset or disappointed. There is a lot to latch on to in this latest Marvel installment. As for a setup movie, it did exactly what it is suppose to do. It setup a character I already loved and made me want to see more of him as well as his evil step-brother. I can't wait to see more of Thor in "The Avengers" and I really hope that won't be the end of the Norse God of thunder. I'd also really like to see Thor's world expanded in "Thor 2." Fingers crossed.


Good review. I don't know the comics but was wondering if they were going to satisfy fans and moviegoers alike.