I suppose it’s odd to say that out of all the Marvel characters who have so far been given their own film, Thor (portrayed by Chris Hemsworth) doesn’t seem to fit in. I can somehow accept that a rich man can design and fit in an iron suit, or that a scientist can be transformed into a giant green monster, but bring me a Norse god and I have to laugh. I think it has something to do with how everyone else’s powers are at least somewhat grounded in reality, while Thor’s are completely supernatural.
Granted, he doesn’t actually get to use his powers all that often before he has them taken away. After breaking a truce with the Frost Giants, Thor is punished by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and is banished to Earth without possessing any of his powers. His hammer, Mjolnir, is also sent down, but until Thor is deemed “worthy,” he’s not allowed to have it. Essentially, he has some growing up to do before he’s allowed to become the comic book superhero that so many people adore.
While on Earth, he has to deal with some earthly problems, mostly coming from a group of scientists who are curious about discovering where he comes from. Jane (Natalie Portman), Erik (Stellan Skarsgård), and Darcy (Kat Dennings) end up teaming up with Thor, helping him out when possible, while also learning what it’s like to be a mere mortal. It’s almost a coming-of-age story for about half of the time it plays, which takes some real courage considering most audience members are going to be expecting an all-out action film.
If that is what you want from Thor, then you’ll probably be disappointed after it concludes. By my count, there are only two or three major and minor action scenes. There’s one before Thor is banished, there’s one while he’s on Earth, and then there’s one more right near the end. There’s a lot more focus on Thor as a character than there is on the action, which is a gutsy choice. It’s also wrong.
See, there’s a difference between Thor as a human and Thor as a Norse god. As a human, he’s not all that different from your average person, except for the fact that he looks like he must work out 24/7. As a god, he’s a cocky, selfish, immature man who has a lot to learn about possessing magical powers. Most of the film deals with Thor as a human, but since you know that won’t last, anything that happens during this time period doesn’t end up mattering. If a caterpillar learns a defense mechanism for dealing with pesky lizards, will it maintain those tendencies once it’s a butterfly and can just fly away?
Few of the supporting cast members make much of an impact either. Portman’s Plain Jane scientist is the love interest, Hopkins’ Odin sleeps for most of the film, and most of the other members are just inconsequential. There are four other gods who are Thor’s friend, but they never actually factor in to anything of importance.
The only other character worth mention is Loki (Tom Hiddleson), Thor’s brother and Odin’s other son. He’s a mischievous character who ends up taking advantage of Thor’s banishment and Odin’s age to become the new king of the gods and effectively become our villain. You’ll probably figure out that he’s in it for himself way before the film tells you, as even when we get a scene of the two brothers as children, it’s pretty clear that they’re not going to stay best friends for their entire lives.
So, essentially, Thor wants to be a character study of a superhero when he isn’t actually a superhero, and an action movie for the brief period of time when he is. But any depth that the lead attains can’t and won’t stick, and since the film is too busy with an uninteresting god-turned-human, it ignores other possibly interesting characters. This would be okay if it kept us entertained with a bunch of exciting action scenes, but there’s such a long, dry period without them that my attention began to wane.
Granted, when action scenes do occur, they’re quite well-done. Compared to the other Marvel films leading to The Avengers so far, they’re far more magical. This means that there are pretty much no boundaries, and the filmmakers aren’t hampered by silly restrictions like gravity, physics, or other things that we take for granted. We’re dealing with gods, after all, and this subject matter allows for unique, enjoyable action scenes. I guess I just wanted more of them, and I wanted them to have more at stake. I can’t remember a point when I thought that Thor might not make it out of this okay. While I could appreciate what was going on, I was never thrilled by it because the character or the things he cares about never seemed to be in great danger.
Thor works when it chooses to focus on the action and embrace the silliness that comes with using a Norse god as a protagonist. When it focuses on the action, it works well. Unfortunately, these periods are too short and spend too much time being build toward that they’re presence feels underwhelming. The character moments don’t work, largely because none of the depth the character is given can possibly stick, and there’s just not a whole lot there apart from the action and the visuals. I really wanted to like this more, and while it’ll be required viewing before seeing The Avengers, I didn’t have a great time with it.