The summer of comic book movies is officially upon us. Thor kicks off the first of four comic book films set to hit theatres this summer. Thor is directed by Kenneth Branagh who’s known for his screen adaptations of famous Shakespearian plays. These adaptations include Hamlet (1996) and As You Like It (2006). Can a director with a specific reputation make a good comic book movie?
Thor begins with two scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) investigating the sky for any unique activity. Alongside the two scientists is a political science intern named Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). The three notice a vortex in which someone or something has emerged from. Upon investigation the three find a man who calls himself Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The film than cuts away to show the realm of Asgard which is ruled by a king named Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor is the son of Odin and he also has a brother named Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
On a day in which Thor is set to be crowned the new king of Asgard, a break into the kingdom occurs in which the enemy Frost Giants attempts to steal an important artifact (Casket of Ancient Winters). Thor believes that the Frost Giants should be punished for the break in, especially there ruler Laufey (Colm Feore). Odin states that only a few were responsible and a war should not take place due to the carelessness of a few. Thor disobeys his father and travels to the Frost Giants home realm of Jotunheim. Thor attacks the Frost Giants along with Loki and his three friends. Odin enraged by what Thor has done strips away his power and banishes Thor to Earth.
Branagh deserves much credit for being able to take something that could be dismissed as dumb and make it entertaining and intelligent. This comes to the forefront in the way he directs his performers when it comes to delivering over the top dialogue. However, when crediting the delivery and the control of the performance one has to mention the performers themselves. Hemsworth is taking this role seriously and he shows he is more than capable of holding his own with two Oscar winning performers (Hopkins and Portman).
The effects team who worked on this project also deserves recognition for the realm of Asgard looks admirable. It is because of how great this realm looks that the audience will be able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the scenery. Thor also delivers when it comes to the action scenes that are not on Earth. The opening fight scene in which Thor takes on the Frost Giants satisfies what the audience is looking for in an action scene. The scene is well shot, is edited well and has a satisfying payoff.
What also is fresh about Thor is the story around the rival brother and villain Loki. Loki although he is supposed to be a villain and the audience is supposed to root for his demise. This is difficult to do because you cannot help but to feel for him. This becomes even more apparent when you find out about his past. Hiddleston like Hemsworth is taking his role sincerely. It is rejuvenating to see performers wanting to give good performances in a comic book film.
Thor also explores the concept of a God having to live as a mortal in an effective way. The concept of humbling someone who is as arrogant and powerful as the God Thor is an intriguing premise. I always want to see how the protagonist of a film grows or changes as the film progresses. Thor handles that premise in a mature way for by the end of the film Thor begins to realize that becoming humble and appreciative of the gifts that he possesses is a better path.
Although the writing itself of Thor is strong its development of the side characters is not. Portman’s character is only in the film for the love story and nothing more and this is irritating. Why would you cast a talent like Portman and not use her skills? I understand that her character is a supporting character, however, that does mean her character should be reduced to a plot device and nothing more. Furthermore, the same can be said for the character that Dennings plays. Dennings is supposed to be a comic relief character but her one liners of dialogue can only take her so far. After a couple of scenes her character begins to slow down Thor.
The love story itself is also under developed for despite both Portman’s and Hemsworth’s best efforts they are unable to convince the audience that they can love each other. I do not fault the performers for this because they are working as hard as they can to make it convincing but in the end the love story comes out short. If Thor would have focused more on them becoming closer without the forced love angle than the relationship would have been more genuine.
I mentioned that the action scenes on Asgard are well done. However, on Earth they are clichéd. Thor as a mortal battling other mortals is executed in a clunky way. I can see why the scenes are in Thor because it is showing him as being a capable fighter as a mortal. That being said, they still are not up to par with the scenes at which the audience is able to see what Thor is capable of doing as a God.
Despite my opinions on the love story and the under development of the side characters, I still enjoyed Thor immensely. Branagh has worked hard to make a good comic book film and he has succeeded. The performances are good across the board, and the effects work. Thor’s exploration of the idea of a God becoming a mortal is also fascinating and it works on all levels. I am still giving Thor a strong recommendation because although it has some flaws it does enough things right for it to be enjoyable. Thor has set the bar high for the other comic book movies due to come out this summer.