I am certain no two people in the theatre were more ignorant of the Marvel comic title Thor than my companion and I. We gamely let the film unfold before us with zero preconceptions and (to be honest) pretty low expectations. The fans around is seemed to feel pretty good about it as a whole, and we both found it entertaining and pretty well self-contained.
The story takes place in two worlds: ours, and the far-off realm of Asgard, where the personages of Thor (Chris Hemsworth(, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Frigga (Rene Russo), and Heimdall (Idris Elba) live. The presence of these space gods in our Norse folklore is explained as long-ago visits to Earth where their advanced science seemed magical. Naturally, back in New Mexico, we have Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd as a Swede who knows the stories, though a children’s book is still needed to explain the extra bits.
Politics and mayhem are driving the story out in Asgard, sons of the king vying for Odin’s throne, etc. Back on Earth, we have a banished, mortal Thor trying to get home and recover the hammer that is the source of his power, (though we don’t really get to know what that power is, beyond seeing it used as a weapon). An alien fish out of water, in trouble with the authorities, and a rather silly burgeoning romance with Natalie Portman clearly based only in hormones rounds out the story here on Earth. Thor serves as an origin tale — useful for those like myself and my companion, but it also sets up a clear plan of action for future films. Hint: stay through the credits and look for The Avengers in 2012. Plenty of stuff happens.
As befitting the bigger than life residents of Asgard, their speech is bombastic and over-wrought. Back on Earth it’s amusing to hear Thor speaking in his lofty manner, but it’s kookier that he manages to blend in as effortlessly as he does. This isn’t nearly as funny as director Kenneth Branagh’s use of Kat Denning and some physical gags, but it contains more humor than I would have expected. Like so many superhero films have been exploring lately, Thor starts out as a bit of an ass, and (spoiler alert) grows into his better-known hero persona. Thor’s character transformation is more realistic than that of the Green Hornet, for all of Thor’s fantastic origins.
Asgard is beautiful — the Celtic knotwork throughout everything, the rich golds and blacks and architectural design is noble and rich without looking too familiar. Another realm, that of Jotunheim, is an acceptably bleak and frozen, yet super-familiar, land of the Frost Giants in contrast. There are definitely some scenes in Jotunheim where you might expect a bunch of Vrykul to come crunching over the horizon.
As Thor crept near the two-hour mark, I started to tire of it, but it generally kept my interest and had strong pacing throughout. Outside of the comedic moments (and an extra eye-rolling-worthy romantic moment), Thor didn’t pack a lot of surprises, but it’s a solid, likable summer movie. (And we both thought Loki was cuter anyway.)
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/5/11
Time in minutes 114
Director Kenneth Branagh
Studio Paramount Pictures