The Mighty Thor

Thor is a surprisingly solid movie. I want to put emphasis on the fact that it is surprising to see the movie turn out good, and to be so successful in the box office. This is because, of all the comic books movies coming out, Thor is the one that seemed the hardest to do well. Honestly, is it any surprise that people love seeing Robert Downey Jr. swagger around as playboy/superhero Tony Stark, or that years earlier people enjoyed seeing everyman Peter Parker coping with superherodom. At least for two movies, we should avoid talking about the third Spider-Man film. People can identify with those characters, either as the people they feel they are, or as the people they wish that they could be.

Most people seem to have a much more difficult time identifying with Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. Outside of a much smaller subsection of movie goers known for rolling strangely shaped dice, most people never think about flying around in chain mail and hurling a massive hammer at their enemies. Yet despite that glaring difficulty, director Kenneth Branagh delivers a film that is tightly acted and has heart.

For those who are unaware, Thor is an actual mythological figure in Norse mythology. He was adapted for the Marvel Comics universe by Stan ‘The Man’ Lee back in the ’60s and has been around since. Although he is a major member of the Avengers, one of the ‘Big Three’ that also includes Iron Man and Captain America, his fanbase is much smaller. Also his original costume looked really dumb, and yes, that is even when standing next to a man wearing the flag and a yellow and red robot suit. On top of that he used really stilted dialogue and always felt a little out-of-place in the Avengers. Therefore when Marvel announced that we would be getting a Thor film, and that he would be in the Avengers movie, comic fans across the world felt terror clutching their heart.

The biggest fear was that they would be unable to make him fit in with the Marvel film franchise. Thanks to Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Hulk we had a big focus on ‘science’ heroes. Science-fiction rather, but still heroes that originated from human experimentation rather than ‘magic’. Thor just does not fit in with that group. Even the upcoming Captain America movie, which sets my heart aflutter at the merest thought, is still very much a science based hero. In fact, thanks to the influence of the Ultimates comic series, his Super Soldier Serum (say that fast) is the basis for the research that created the Hulk and such. This movie continuum is very tightly woven with overlapping threads, so introducing a literal god seemed grossly out-of-place.

Then the movie came out.

Now after paragraphs of fear-mongering, allow me to say that Thor managed to do a solid job of delivering not just the titular character but the whole of Asgard, his mystical homeland also known as Valhalla. In this version the ‘gods’ are actually super advanced aliens, similar to the ones in Stargate, where their ‘magic’ is actually manipulation of science as a very high level. Most of us have heard Clark’s third law that says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This is the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments for this movie, although we never see how they do it, the idea is that Thor and his people can manipulate the laws of the universe directly. It is still magic, but less jarring than it could have been in a universe with Iron Man and the Hulk.

Anyway, onto the movie proper. Thor concerns the son of Odin and the heir to the throne of Asgard, which in this version is a beautifully rendered alien world and fortress. He is proud, naive, and overly aggressive. His brother is Loki, for those who don’t know he is the God of Mischief in Norse mythology, in this he is the manipulative, selfish, but ultimately relatable villain. After letting his brother talk him into taking a very rash action against the Asgardian’s biggest enemies, Thor is cast down to earth without his powers. Luckily his father Odin gives him a single chance by also casting his mystical hammer to earth as well, and in a very Sword in the Stone way it can be lifted by any who is worthy.

Naturally Thor is worthy, but only after learning an important lesson about humility and self-sacrifice. Along the way he meets a charming scientist played by Natalie Portman, and the two almost instantly fall in love. Well, at least after she hits him with the car a few times. The whole thing is by the numbers, much like the whole movie, but still hits all the right notes to be engaging. All in all, a very solid entry into the franchise, and considering my worries I can only praise the filmmakers for managing to deliver on a concept that seemed impossibly flawed.

There are a few issues I have with this movie that could have elevated this from solid and surprisingly decent to excellent. First it was a little short for such a big epic, coming in under two hours long. Considering how much footage most movies film, why are so many producers unwilling to let directors put in all the good stuff? I think Lord of the Rings showed the world that moviegoers can enjoy a long film, and in fact we prefer it.

Next, I have an issue with the paint-by-numbers approach of the movie. Although it worked, to a degree, it was really the acting that saved this movie from being mediocre. Well, that and some pretty awesome special effects too. At least half of the movie has a depowered Thor, so special effects did not save it. We had Chris Hemsworth as a good Thor, Natalie Portman engaging the audience as Jane Foster, and Tom Hiddleston’s awesome Loki. With the great supporting cast and tight directing, we get a movie that is not a revelation from a story standpoint, but solid and enjoyable.

Finally, the biggest thing is that a movie about Thor should be about Thor. Such a huge chunk of the film focused on the depowered main character that I was longing for some of the great fights from the beginning. It worked, but I wanted more Thor and the final act was far too short to properly appreciate the action. This probably relates to the first time issue, and so I’ll blame this one on the producers, just because.

So there you have it. Thor is an enjoyable film, a worthy addition to the filmverse, and worth seeing. It just remains to be seen if Thor can remain an engaging character when he is a god through the entire movie. We will get our chance to find out when The Avengers comes out next year. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see.

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