3 June 2011 | rparham
Thor proves a strong contender
In the pantheon of Marvel Superheroes, from my vantage point, Thor is a second-tier player. Even amongst non-obsessive comic aficionados, such as myself, Thor doesn't quite have the readership draw or the common familiarity in the public that heroes such as Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, etc., have. However, that doesn't mean that Marvel Studios, the filmmaking wing of the company, feel inclined to give the filmic adaptation of Thor short shrift. The cinematic entry for this character, titled simply Thor, is among the better of the Marvel adaptations of recent years, mixing a good sense of fun, strong acting, and some Shakespearian level drama that makes for an especially entertaining time at the movies.
Liberally adapting portions of Thor comic book lore to fit in a more modern comic book film reality, Thor introduces us to a centuries old war between the Asgardians, beings that live for long periods of time and can travel through space from their home realm of Asgard to various other worlds, such as Earth, via the Bi-Frost bridge, and the conflict centric Frost Giants, whom the Asgardians conquered some time back. Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruler of the Asgardians, is preparing to abdicate his throne to his son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), but on the eve of Thor's inauguration, agents of the Frost Giants infiltrate Asgard and attempt to steal back a device that is the key to their power, which had been taken by Odin at the end of their long struggle. When Thor disagrees with his father's desire to not to retaliate in order to not disturb the peace that currently exists between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, he takes matters into his own hands, traveling to the Frost Giant's realm with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and compatriots Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandral (Josh Dallas) in tow. When the encounter with the Frost Giants ends with tensions re-ignited between the two factions, Odin decides that his son is not prepared to lead his people, and exiles Thor, sans his powers, to Earth.
When he arrives on Earth, he is discovered by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her associates Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who are convinced that he isn't a random homeless vagabond that they found in the middle of the desert. Thor must attempt to locate his power hammer, Mjolnir, from the government agents that have captured it, and attempt to reclaim his place in Asgard. However, he finds that, without his super-human abilities, and surrounded by humans, perhaps some of his previous attitudes were incorrect, especially when he connects romantically with Jane. Meanwhile, Loki, who turns out to have some ulterior motives, seizes control of Asgard following the collapse of Odin from strain, and begins to hatch a grand scheme involving the Frost Giants.
Thor, much like Iron Man before it, proves that, in the right hands, a comic tale that appears silly on the surface can have hidden depths when properly plumbed. Sure, Thor has elements that, on the face of it, may lead a bit to some audience snickers (Thor's ability to pick himself up and fly and defeat attackers with little effort are a bit cheesy at times), but the creatives behind Thor, including director Kenneth Branagh, manage to develop a story for Thor that deals with elements of tragedy, pathos, selflessness and, perhaps even more surprisingly, involving character development. Thor is more about the lead characters at its core, again akin to Iron Man, than some other comic book films and this draws the audience into its tale.
When it was first announced that Kenneth Branagh would be taking the reins of Thor as a director, it seemed something of an unusual fit for someone best known for his cinematic adaptations of the works of Shakespeare, but the final results of Thor bare out that Branagh was just the right man for the job. Considering the larger-than-life origins of the Thor comic, involving beings with the power and appearance of Gods and the various machinations of their story, the material fits fairly well with Branagh's body of work to a great extent. Especially strong is the development of Loki, who proves to be less of a traditional mustache twirling villain, and more of a misguided soul, trapped between revelations he makes about himself and his past and his respect in his father, making him more of a tragic figure than a black and white comic book antagonist.
Thor benefits from strong acting from its leads, Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Hemsworth embodies Thor, first as the brash, acting-before- thinking hero, and later as a man faced with the reality that some of his choices and attitudes were not becoming of a king. Hemsworth really makes you empathize with Thor, and gives you a reason to root for the character throughout the film. Hiddleston, working with the somewhat subdued (at first) Loki eventually transforms him from a seeming weak, malleable person into one who's penchant for vengeance and control is revealed in layers, peeling back one by one through the development of the narrative.
Thor isn't without its weak points, however. The romance between Thor and Jane Foster is practically and afterthought, rushed into the narrative at light speed and then not given any room to breathe or develop, it plays more as a requirement of adapting the comic story than something that works organically in the film. Portman is fine in the role, but the screenplay doesn't give enough to this relationship for it to be more than a bump in the road of the film's story.
Once again, Marvel has managed to take one of their lesser known heroes and make them the subject of an entertaining film version, with energy and depth that is a bit unexpected. May they keep on making comic book films of this caliber.