By Caitlin Gardner
Let’s cut to the chase. The main reason there is a Thor movie is to service The Avengers movie and make Marvel Comics lots and lots of money. With Captain America coming out later this summer, a third actor stepping in for The Incredible Hulk, plus, Iron Man 3 locations already being scouted, this is really going to happen.
Understanding that Thor, the movie, is a part of the puzzle for all-star superhero films is to temper your expectations in thinking that this is going to be an epic of the Norse myth or just a stand alone movie of the character. However, Thor has fun with the limited runtime of just Thor’s story as it is being strategically ploted as a steppingstone.
In the film, Thor is banished to Earth after betraying and disrespecting his father, Odin, the ruler of Asgard. Thor is rendered powerless and ostracized until he is worthy to wield the power that comes from his hammer. Thor’s first contact is with scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and the hammer quickly comes under the possession of the S.H.I.E.L.D.
Meanwhile back in Asgard, Odin has gone into a coma, leaving Thor’s very underestimated brother, Loki, in power, wanting to make sure Thor never returns to become ruler of Asgard.
A great deal of the film is a bit cramped with a lot of exposition in the dialogue and in narration by the great Sir Anthony Hopkins. Out of the Marvel titles that have come out thus far, Thor is probably the most niche and attached to the S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot that includes as post-credits ending that has a twist.
What makes Thor work is Kenneth Branagh (best known for his Shakespearean epics of Henry V and Hamlet) directing the film. He is completely aware of how pulpy and operatic Thor’s whole background as the God of Thunder in the parallel universe of Asgard. Branagh’s direction encourages the actors to have fun, but the sense of bravado (like a stage actor performing Shakespeare) despite the clunky dialogue of the script sometimes hindering the effect.
Branagh grows comfortable directing an action film despite some missteps early on, such as the over-saturating use of the Dutch angle shot. But the action is often in lockstep with the father-son and Cain and Abel relationships between Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and the mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Hemsworth as the title character does a pretty good job holding his own against Anthony Hopkins in the Asgard scenes and while on Earth in the predictable humorous play of Thor as a fish out of water does pretty solid job in physical humor. Hopkins as Odin is predictably ideal in this role that he has sort of played dozens of times befor. But the real find is Hiddleston as Loki who nearly takes the film from Hemsworth who takes a part that could have been very one-note and campy into a conniving, scheming, but also complex character who figures way more into Thor’s life than family relations.
Overall, Thor plays off being a pseudo-Shakespearean piece in an alternative universe, like ‘a stranger in a strange land,’ and a pure tie-in into a larger franchise. Thor could have been way less interesting and engrossing, but with Kenneth Branagh’s direction, a solid ensemble (Natalie Portman and Stellan Skargard are very good believable as scientists), the typical Easter eggs and cameos you expect from a Marvel Studios production, and some gorgeous set designs that completely blend in with the CGI, Thor has me even more excited for The Avengers film.