Review: Thor (2011)
Kenneth Branagh's Thor is an excellent comic-book-mythological superhero movie that's great to watch. An origin-and-adventure combo which exploits its Norse origins, graphic and plot history of the classic comics, and niche in the Avengers Marvel run-up begun with Jon Favreau's very good Iron Man and sequel Iron Man 2, and continuing through Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk, Thor and the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, it bodes well for the series and whatever further spin-offs may come.
Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, his brother, wrote the early adventures of Thor as a Marvel character in the sixties, with memorable art by Jack Kirby, in which the Norse god was banished from Asgard and transported into the body of an ordinary mortal. Kirby is a comics legend, who often worked on big stories of galactic forces meeting and transforming, and the film takes ample inspiration from a lot of his work, creating an Asgard, Jotunheim (the realm of the Frost Giants) and the cosmic rainbow bridge or portal which unites and divides them in memorably beautiful ways. "Trippy" as a word could have been invented to describe the Kirby aesthetic. In many ways, if you're talking about modern comics, you're talking about Kirby. Thor rips out swaths of pages of this and renders them in some stunning 3-D.
Maneuvering around pitfalls which have brought down many a movie about mythology, or swords and sorcery, the film embraces the "ancient astronaut" theory which could loosely describe the Marvel sci-fi concept of the series from its beginnings, with updated computer imagery and effects which do not feel sterile or cold, but epic, and of a piece with the story and its action, Thor succeeds.
This movie really strips things down to the basics and provides an origin and first adventure which aren't dated or in rigid thrall to the history of the comics, but which also isn't disrespectful or unmindful of it. Thor drops in to New Mexico, by happenstance, or fate, into the path of astrophysicist and stargazer Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, good) and her colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings, funny), who are out investigating aurora-like celestial anomalies observed in that area of the desert.
There's a light-comic tone from the beginning which suits the story of an ancient Norse god/superpowerful dimensional traveler who falls to Earth with us mere mortals. This continues, and interweaves with the Asgard story without damaging the regal, advanced technological world of the home of the gods. Chris Hemsworth leads this charge with winning charm, strength and credibility.
In Asgard, we see what led to Thor's banishment by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and separation from his powerful war hammer, Mjolnir. A rivalry between Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, pitch-perfect), the trickster god, plays out with betrayals, secrets, usurpation and twists. Hopkins is really good here, as he usually is, even in big blockbuster attempts which sometimes fail to use him effectively. Here, Odin is effective and powerful. His wisdom is multifarious and farsighted, in keeping both with mythology and the advanced technological world of the Asgardians. He's not quite as pluperfect a comics patriarch as Marlon Brando's Jor-El, but he's definitely in the same class, guiding Thor toward a better understanding of what is required of him and his powers.
The plot itself fits in well with the continuing Avengers build-up, so I won't spoil much of it here, but we know or can guess that the search for Mjolnir and its reclaiming by Thor will be important. Meanwhile, it's fun to see Thor and his battle companions, the Warriors Three, Fandral (Josh Dallas), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), as well as the female warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander), act together against the Frost Giants, Loki's machinations and the robot Destroyer, when they threaten the Earth and the balance of power in heaven.
Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper of the rainbow bridge, who has his own inscrutable secrets, motivations and rules of engagement, is a particular pleasure, and well portrayed visually. Despite the relative scarcity of his scenes, they add a lot, largely due to his particular acting presence and the visual dynamism of Heimdall and his post. For reservations, the film is a bit long, and flirts with boredom somewhat before the climax. But the visuals, humor and good acting keep it from ever being actually boring for long at all. I particularly recommend the film in 3-D for the optimum impact.
Thor is good fun, smart, a good addition to the building story of The Avengers, and Chris Hemsworth's star-making breakthrough (and don't forget Tom Hiddleston). If you like Thor, or if you never quite liked Thor, or if you never paid any attention to Thor, this film is designed to satisfy, inform, and bring the character to a solid, epic new level. I've seen it three times already, strongly recommend it in 3-D, and am already ready for more. All in all, it plays to Thor's strengths, what's cool and original about him as a superhero, and satisfies. Watch all the credits....
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