I’d have to say that even four years after Marvel Comics announced that they were launching their very own FUBU (For Us, By Us) movie studio, the reaction through the geek work was mixed to say the least. The general consensus was that the best of the Marvel A-Listers (X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, etc.) had been already plundered by other studios (Fox, Sony, New Line, Lionsgate, etc.) leaving only what many considered to be C or D-List heroes. That was until the summer of 2008 when Marvel Studios released Iron Man, starring a top-notch yet not overbearingly A-List cast that blasted into theatres and gave us the 1st blockbuster of that year. About a month or so later, The Incredible Hulk, a vastly underrated film and substantial improvement on 2003’s version, was released. However, while reviews were more than favorable, the box-office was anything but incredible. Critics and fanboys alike were thoroughly silenced as apprehension turned into anticipation for the remaining slate of Marvel Studio films, Iron Man 2, Captain America and Thor.
Much to the chagrin of many, Iron Man 2 was primarily an Easter egg hunt of new characters and *wink-wink* references to the upcoming, Avengers film. For the uninitiated, Marvel Studios intended to release a series of films that would eventually lead up to an enormous crossover film, The Avengers. The Avengers are arguably one of the most prominent superhero super groups in the Marvel Comics canon. Some people, including me, called it audacious, while many thought it was foolhardy or worse just didn’t care. Each film left a breadcrumb trail of clues to successive films. In one of those ‘wait-till-after-the-credits’ reveals after the credits of Iron Man 2, Thor’s hammer is lying in the middle of a crater somewhere in the New Mexican desert. Thus the set-up begins for one of Marvel’s oldest yet more obscure characters.
If I had to ask for an honest show of hands for how people really wanted to ever see a Thor movie, I bet you that it wouldn’t be many outside of die-hard comic book fans. The film itself had a lot going against it from the start. Following up after the entertaining but overall uneven mess that was Iron Man 2, fans worried about another Avengers ‘set-up’ movie, instead a stand alone origin story. An unknown lead of an unpopular character. Kenneth Branaugh at the helm did not necessarily quiet fans either. No one can question that he’s anything less than a great director but he’s never been known for action. And audiences have had to endure an ‘out of his element’ director once before.
Hulk see pretty butterfly.
Ponder about the meaning of life.
Why Dad so mean to me?
Thanks Mr. Lee, you can have a seat now.
After all is said and done, Thor is a pretty enjoyable flick, not mighty by any means but worth the ride. Due in no small part to a special combination of ingredients; solid direction, capable writing and good casting. And speaking of casting, the relative unknown, Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) embodies the role of the cocksure but somewhat misguided Thor, the god of thunder and second in line to the throne of Asgard. For me, the film really hinged on his performance and after the 1st twenty minutes or so, I think you’d agree it’s the right fit. I mean he doesn’t do for Thor what Heath Ledger did for the Joker, but he certainly doesn’t get in the way like I’d imagine a certain cosmic crusader with a penchant for fancy jewelry. Rounding out the rest of the impressive cast is Sir Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) as Odin, who is spot-on as the sovereign leader of Asgard. Idris Elba (HBO’s The Wire) as Heimdall, the golden-eyed all-seeing guardian of Bifrost, the ‘Stargate’ of their world, fits in seamlessly in mythology typically reserved for a more Scandinavian hued roster. Tom Hiddleston, stars as Loki, Thor’s half-brother, who has Iago-esque designs on the throne and is conniving as Thor is boastful.
Where the film really shines is very indicative, in my opinion, of the director’s predilections for theatre. Thor is by far the most Shakespearean of comic book characters and those family-father-son dynamics play out very well and quite honestly are the best moments of the film. I also noticed that careful attention was paid to sort of dumb down the Asgardian dialect which is usually rife with ‘thee’s’, thou’s’ and my own personal Thor favorite, ‘verily.’ An exercise in artistic liberty that works quite nicely in the audience’s favor. Thor is exiled along with his enchanted hammer by Odin for endangering the empire and ends up stranded in New Mexico which is where the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent found it at the end of Iron Man 2.
This is when the movie slows down for me. The obligatory love story established between Thor and the astrologically inclined Dr. Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman (Black Swan), is meant to convey Thor’s connection with humanity and humility. It is quite frankly the weakest part of the film for me, Portman is fine in the role, but I found myself asking ‘why is she here and why should I care?’ Once the movie shifts to Earth that’s when the film becomes more by-the-numbers. Since Thor has essentially been grounded by daddy, he has effectively been put on ice, which serves two purposes. Exposition and Budget cutting. Thor manages to walk around shirtless and befuddled by human customs (like coffee) while making googily-eyes with Portman who does little more than sound smart and look great in a tank-top. This is a heckuva lot cheaper than battling hordes of Frost Giants, the film’s initial antagonists. A race of giant race of blue skinned warriors who reside in a parallel realm and have been at war with the Asgardians on-and-off for millennia. Thor also has a chance to explain the history of his people (quite literally by the book.) Neither of these are unforgivable sins but it did indeed affect the pacing.
Ultimately, Thor comes in like a lion but goes a bit like a lamb. However much to its credit it is definitely much more of a stand alone film than its Marvel Studios predecessor. There are trouble spots along the way but I have to tell you that I enjoyed this film way more than I thought I would.