I’m more interested in coming up with cheap puns that could’ve titled this review were it not for the fact that we have formats to follow regarding the titles, so, no matter how awesome it would be to call it “THORing” or “This Movie Is Asgard,” I can’t. (“Thor: A sNORSE-fest” would be good, too.)
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), for those of you who skipped the Norse mythology part of your childhood or avoided the comic (does anyone know a die-hard Thor fan? I’ve been told they exist, but then people say there’s some dedicated Hulk and Dr. Strange fans, too), is the Norse god of thunder and son to Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, an alien planet or alternate plane of existence (I’m not entirely sure).
A thousand or so years ago the Asgardians fought the frost giants, led by Laufey (Colm Feore), to protect earth and preserve something called the Casket of Ancient Winters. Fast-forward to the present, when those knucklehead frost giants are at it again. This time they invade Asgard to back steal the casket, and Thor disobeys his father when he travels to Jotunheim to rough up Laufey.
Joining Thor are his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano)—don’t worry, you won’t be tested on the names.
Odin gets miffed and strips Thor of his powers before banishing him to New Mexico, where he meets up with a team of scientists who happen to be researching alternate planes or whatever. More importantly, they’re played by Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard, and they think Thor is a whacked-out bum, thanks to his odd manner of speaking and habit of smashing cups of coffee after each drink.
Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki makes a deal with Laufey to overthrow Odin so he can take the throne of Asgard, and Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (newcomer Mjolnir) reappears in a New Mexican desert, where the local populace builds something of a carnival around it so each yokel can take turns trying to lift it before they’re shooed away by S.H.I.E.L.D., who do pretty much the same thing but on a more scientific-y level. They also confiscate Natalie Portman’s journals. Naturally, Thor hears about this and heads there to retrieve his hammer and Natalie Portman’s science.
I could go on describing the film right through to the end, and it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler—the story plays out exactly as you think it would with no twists or surprises: You have the arrogant hero who loses his power then regains it after some soul searching; the close friend who turns evil (and who ends up possessing similar but greater powers than the hero); the woman he initially ignores and then falls in love with; and the father whose shadow the hero struggles under.
Sound familiar? Of course it does, because anyone who’s going to see Thor has already seen Iron Man—and Thor is the same formula reapplied. It even tries to copy Iron Man’s nuanced humor with the more Suburban Commando moments.
And I don’t really know what it is that Iron Man did right that Thor doesn’t other than Iron Man got there first. Hemsworth is every bit as strong as Robert Downey, Jr. and captures the air of a Wagnerian god while simultaneously infusing the part with a sweet concern and respect for lesser mortals.
Skarsgard also deserves praise for his scene-stealing drollness as the scientist who doesn’t quite believe what’s going on but kind of enjoys the ride, however Hopkins, Portman, and the rest have little to do (did Thor’s gaggle of warriors even need to be in this film?). Hopkins is used, once again, more for his presence than his actual skills, and I don’t buy Portman as a down-to-earth (so to speak) scientist—she tries so hard to play normal roles when I’d rather see her as an icy, aristocratic bitch, a part her on-screen austerity seems destined for but has yet to be realized.
Branagh’s directing style is suited for the bold, grand, and emotive venue of the theatre, so it would seem that he’d be an excellent choice for this film, but perhaps that’s the problem: Thor has grandeur, but no depth, and all the little details that might have made it interesting slide off its streamlined gloss.
I brought up Wagner a while ago, and I think it’s an apt comparison—the characters are superficial, the plot contrived, and everything rushed toward the final showdown. Those aren’t necessarily faults in an operatic production, which is what Branagh’s clearly aiming for, but he forgot the music.