Review: Thor

For all of the mumbo jumbo concerning the dominant superhero genre in Hollywood, I never had much of an interest in heroes that came from distant galaxies or eras. What I always found fascinating were the stories of mortal people who would rise to do extraordinary things. Welcome, Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man and company. Boy, did that formula get old pretty quick. The every-man’s journey and learning curve of learning his powers has gotten repetitious of late, and at worst, boring. It seems, in fact, that a film exactly like Thor was needed to bring an interesting twist to the established superhero anthology. My preconcieved concern with the film was that having a hero like Thor would provide the plot with little true conflict and low stakes, given his otherworldly abilities. It seems I’ve been proven wrong. Though it isn’t a great film by any means, Thor manages to delicately balance its serious mythos while also being self-conscious about its own inherent goofiness.

What makes Thor work from the outset is Chris Hemsworth, who plays the title character, son of Odin and the God of Thunder. From the outset, he establishes Thor as a gung-ho, charismatic force to be reckoned with, if a bit too headstrong and stubborn. It is quite a commanding performance, and almost every scene with his presence benefits because of it. The other performances supporting Hemsworth’s are also worth noting. Despite the looniness of the plot, the cast takes the material seriously, and therefore allows for a more enjoyable experience. Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, Thor’s younger brother, and Anthony Hopkins portrays Odin, Thor’s legendary father, and the father-son and brotherhood dynamic also plays out nicely, even alluding to some Shakespearean themes. It comes as no surprise then, that the film is directed by Kenneth Branagh, a Shakespearean veteran, both on stage and on screen. This dynamic provides the core conflict of the film, and is precisely what makes the film work so well. All of Marvel’s best films, chiefly Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man work for the same reasons: the characters and the relationships of those characters.

What is most impressive about Thor, however, is how well executed the scenes on Earth are. One could easily play Thor’s time on Earth with broad slapstick comedy and the like, and results might have been dismal. Branagh, however, opts for wit and a few visual gags, but never overkill. Normally, I’d find myself groaning at these kind of jokes, but perhaps it is because of Hemsworth’s commitment to the character that I genuinely had fun with the film’s humorous aspects. In fact, I daresay that Thor may very well be the first film of the superhero genre that wholeheartedly and effectively embraces its silliness and uses it to its advantage. I believe Spider-Man 3 tried this and failed. Even films light on their feet like Iron Man may have a wealth of humor and entertainment, but that film still takes its own premise fairly seriously. The more I think about it, the more Thor impresses me for its balancing trick: maintaining its epic mythos, but in as light a way as possible.

Of course, Thor is far from being a great film. Branagh exploits canted angle shots almost as much as Michael Bay, and the film occasionally suffers from serious pacing and editorial problems. Take the opening of the film: We’re thrown in media res (or right into the thick of the action) in New Mexico, in which the team of astrophysicists accidentally come upon Thor after seeing him come straight from an enormous twister/cloud. “Where did he come from?” asks Jane Foster, played with panache by Natalie Portman. Cut to black and we’re jarringly thrown out to Asgard, and provided with the expositional elements to set us on our journey. Once the film finds its footing, it tends to have an easier time, save for a few scene to scene transitions. In fact, it works nicely parallel cutting between Asgard and Earth following Thor’s exile, emphasizing that the events on Asgard have a direct effect on Thor’s stay on Earth. Additionally, though it is decently integrated, the obligatory subplot of S.H.I.E.L.D. serves only to set Thor up for joining the Avengers, and therefore feels a little forced. It does not hinder the film much, but one wonders how the plot might have changed had Marvel producers not intervened. In the end, despite its indulgences in canted angles and pacing problems, Thor succeeds quite impressively for embracing its superhero looniness with a legitimately well told story of fathers and sons set against the epic backdrop of myths and legends.

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~ by romancinema on May 21, 2011.

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