Comic book based movies have become a staple of summer moviegoing. Ever year, at least three action-heavy, effects-laden, hero-driven blockbusters vie for our ticket dollars. The summer of 2011 brought four of them to your local theatre. The first one out of the gate was Thor, a movie made out of necessity so Marvel could continue on to make The Avengers, a group to which Thor belongs.
Having bypassed the comic book side of geekdom entirely, I have no opinion on Thor and its faithfulness or lack there of to the source material. I know something of Norse mythology, but after seeing this movie, that knowledge is mostly useless here. The movie’s story is straightforward, if not hackneyed. Two brothers, princes, one hot-headed and reckless, defy their father. Hot-head creates a disastrous situation, and dad has no choice but to punish him. In Thor, its all heightened to melodrama, but for what it is, it works moderately well. Character development is teacup deep if that. No aspect of it is surprising, or even particularly suspenseful. Thankfully, the film is well populated by very pretty people on arguably even prettier sets.
Chris Hemsworth could not look more like a beefy, handsome, norse god, which is somewhat ironic as he’s an Aussie. Blue-eyed, long-blond haired, he is strikingly attractive enough to ensure a few more matinee idol roles. I can’t judge his acting by this film, however. The role requires no real emotional heavy lifting, but even with that, I felt his performance was a bit wooden.
I preferred Tom Hiddleston’s turn as Loki, who brought a real earnestness to the character, even with a muddled script. As the primary heavy, Hiddleston brings great angst and emotional turmoil to the part, though true character development is largely missing.
Idris Elba chews up the scenery as the golden-eyed Helmdall, guardian of the mystical gate Bifröst. The presence of Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and Natalie Portman (the love interest Jane Foster) baffled me. Hopkins brought his usual gravitas to the role, but the script would not allow either Oscar-winning actor a chance to prove their mettle. Any starlet could have occupied the Foster role, which saddened me, as Portman is truly talented, but wasted here.
Which leaves the director. I have been a massive Kenneth Branagh fan since I first saw his extraordinary Henry V. He acquits himself here, delivering a visual feast, though the story itself could only generously be called a snack. That is clearly not his fault.
Thankfully for us all, the bulk of the film takes place in Asgard. The art direction is off the charts. The world created I can only describe as mythic in proportion and magnitude. Every surface, every detail of the realm of the Norse gods was clearly lovingly crafted. Asgard is massive, awe-inspiring. The costuming, the special effects, the scale of it all delight the eyes. Sweeping camera shots take full advantage of the craftsmanship on display. I absolutely loved the visuals and every moment I could spend soaking up Asgard further validated the price of the ticket.
The land of the frost giants fared considerably worse than Asgard. The frozen world and its denizens I can only describe as ugly. It was dark, uninteresting, and a wasted opportunity.
A note to moviegoers: I saw this in 2D. I am not an anti-3D purist by any stretch. I find some movies are superb in 3D. This one was definitely not. The 3D effect was applied artificially in post-production and transformed the one great thing the movie had going for it, the glorious visuals, into a muddy, nasty mess. The 3D version should be avoided at all costs.
Other super hero movies outshone Thor this summer, particularly the surprisingly good X-men: First Class. However, all of the elements are present to make the second movie, and there will be a sequel, a great comic book movie. Perhaps Marvel have learned after hiring Joss Whedon to pen The Avengers, that hiring highly talented writers only helps these films. For the sake of Thor 2, I certainly hope so.