By Thor’s mighty hammer, justice has
been done in the translation of the Marvel Comics character to the big screen.!
Super hero films are always a crap-shoot. You’ve got the “cheese” factor -- think BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997). You’ve got the “sleaze” factor -- think THE GREEN HORNET (2011). But director Kenneth Branagh gives us a clear winner with his version of THOR.
Branagh has scenery-chewer Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as earthly scientist Jane Foster, Stellan Skarsgard as her mentor/ father figure Erik Selvig, and Branagh’s fellow Brit thespian Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The film succeeds, in large part, because of the strong cast and Branagh’s “just enough, not too much” approach to the story.
Hemsworth spent 6 months building up for this part, a fact which is apparent in his first shirtless shot. Hiddleston, on the other hand, spent time dieting to give Loki that “lean and hungry” look, which also provides a nice contrast between the two characters. Branagh has said that he based his interpretation partly on Shakespeare’s HENRY V with its conflict between two brothers trying to win favor -- and power -- from their powerful king father. Granted, it’s a loose interpretation, but it lends strength to the narrative.
The best heroes are flawed, and Thor is no exception. At the beginning, he’s arrogant and reckless -- leading his ruling realm, Asgard, back into conflict with the Frost Giants.
The best villains are conflicted as is the case with Loki, the brother living in Thor’s shadow. His desire to prove himself to his father only grows stronger when he learns that he was “adopted.” To accomplish his goal to supersede Thor and reign as the heir to Odin, he must trick and disempower his brother. Hiddleston makes Loki truly agonize over his betrayal of Thor, and even to the end of the film, shows the side of Loki that loves and desires approval from his family.
Because of his disastrous provocation of the Frost Giants, Thor is stripped of power and exiled to Earth. He can only regain his hammer of power if he sees the error of his ways and makes up for it.
“The God of Thunder” drops right in front of Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) vehicle, is run over, and taken to the hospital. Jane has been doing research on worm-holes, portals to other worlds, and expects to find evidence in the desert outside a small New Mexico town. She’s a maverick who is constantly being warned by her fellow scientist/mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) that she’s headed for disaster. While Skarsgard gives a convincing and sympathetic performance as Erik, and also provides some clarification for the audience regarding Norse mythology, Portman chose to play Jane as a little bit ditzy. I just couldn’t find the character development necessary to make me believe the character in her portrayal -- a real weakness in the film for me. You can be a maverick without being ditzy (think Jodie Foster in CONTACT). So why would the god-like Thor be interested in her? Oh yeah -- she’s pretty; not to mention that she plants a mega-kiss on him. But she’s just not convincing in her indignation over the confiscation of her work by the Feds.
Hemsworth has the harder job in making Thor believable and not a caricature. He nicely underplays the laugh-inducing super being-out-of-water when he arrives in Earth’s strange environment and finds out, to his dismay, that he is now “only “a man. Well, maybe he’s a bit more man than most, but it’s a humbling experience for him, and he manages to learn his lesson when he grows to really care about the innocent humans put in the path of destruction by his foolishness.
Loki, the shape-shifter and trickster of Norse mythology, has seized his opportunity to gain the throne, but his own treacherous nature will prove his undoing. Hiddleston’s expressive face alternately shows cruelty and regret which gives his character the depth necessary to layer the narrative and pave the way for Thor’s redemption.
I saw the film in IMAX 3-D, and if you do the same, I recommend sitting as far from the screen as possible because you’re going to have a whole lot of visual fireworks coming at you most of the time. I loved the Asgard setting and the transformation of the rainbow bridge to the 9 Realms, as it is in the Marvel comic, to more of a mosaic, iridescent highway.
Visually, I saw many echoes of other films from the action/fantasy genre: SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, TRANSFORMERS, BLADE RUNNER, and yes, even GHOSTBUSTERS. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll probably have a good time compiling your own list. I also loved all the Hubble-esque shots of the Cosmos.
The film is appropriately open-ended. After all, even if there were to be no sequel -- and I think there definitely will be -- Thor is, after all, one of The Avengers...
And that film is due next Summer.