|This issue was, in all seriousness, awesome.|
Right off the bat, the film makes a wise choice by (more or less) starting the film in Asgard, home of the Norse gods. The King of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is preparing to pass on the mantle of king to one of his sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), when there is a security breach within their castle. Some Frost Giants, the immortal enemies of Asgard, managed to sneak in unseen and almost stole a weapon of great power before they were terminated with extreme prejudice by Odin's deadly sentry, the Destroyer. Thor's immediate impulse is to take the fight to the Frost Giants, but Odin forbids any acts of war; he reasoned that this was an act made by a few, and they have been appropriately punished. Thor seethes, but does nothing. That is, he does nothing until he is baited by his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor decides to go to Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants, with his partners in crime, Loki, Sif (Jaime Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg). Why does he go? Ostensibly, to get an apology from the Frost Giant king, but he's really there to fight. And fight they do. The Asgardians beat the living hell out of several dozen Frost Giants, but they are outnumbered and do not have any back-up. A royally pissed-off Odin arrives and manages to keep the peace, but he punishes Thor by banishing him to Earth, without his godly powers. Odin also takes away Thor's signature hammer, whispering an enchantment to it that more or less states that whoever can lift the hammer will have the power of Thor.
One of the more interesting aspects of this film's production process was the decision to hire Shakespearean expert Kenneth Branagh to direct the movie. As far as his Shakespeare films go, Branagh is one of the best in the business, both as an actor and as a director. As for his other movies, well...Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was pretty godawful. The man definitely has a good touch with his actors, though, as anyone working with (mostly) plays must have. I thought he did a pretty solid job with Thor. The action scenes (which he hasn't directed before) looked good and, in some cases, were pretty awesome. The characters that had more than a few lines were all acted quite well by the cast, and I was particularly impressed by the lead performances of Thor and Loki by two unknown actors. Branagh does not have the lightest touch when it comes to cinematography (I hope you like lopsided camera angles), but his choices all make sense. All in all, I think Branagh did an adequate job with making the film look good and a very good job with the cast.
Speaking of the cast, I was alternately very impressed and depressed by Thor. Chris Hemsworth was great in the lead role, capturing the arrogance of the character wonderfully. His character could have been a little deeper, but Hemsworth more than delivered with what was given to him. I was also impressed by Tom Hiddleston's Loki; Loki is a great character in mythology (and Neil Gaiman's fiction), and Hiddleston took a character that could easily just be evil and made him mischievous, cunning, and emotionally desperate. This is definitely my favorite performance of a Marvel villain since Ian McKellan's Magneto. I was surprised to see Anthony Hopkins giving a solid performance as Odin, since he has been mostly just mailing in his work for the past decade. He wasn't spectacular, but he seemed regal and cold, which fits the part well. I was far less impressed by Natalie Portman's role as Jane Foster, an astrophysicist that develops a romance with the thunder god. She should be a pretty important part of the story, but aside from being a decently strong female character (read: she argues with the men-folk), she doesn't do much. I'll give her credit for being more than just another damsel in distress, but that's not enough to stack up against the gods.
The rest of the supporting cast is similarly underwhelming. Jane Foster's friends, played by Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings, are likable enough, but never get past generic stereotypes. Thor's Asgardian buddies have a similar problem, although they are less endearing. Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Josh Dallas (Fandral) and Jaime Alexander all seem like they should have more depth, but they are surprisingly bland. Aside from Volstagg's appetite and their general appearances, these four warriors are interchangeable in the story. Colm Feore, who seems to get cast in big budget movies more for a willingness to wear extensive makeup than anything else, was mediocre as the king of the Frost Giants. You would think his character would have a little more depth, or at least a few wicked moments, but I guess it's okay, since he's essentially a red herring. Clark Gregg was okay as the agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he is certainly no Samuel L. Jackson. You might be surprised to see Rene Russo in a small part, since her last role was six years ago. You might not be surprised to hear that she doesn't do much of anything in the movie. On the other hand, the requisite Stan Lee cameo was handled pretty well.
There was a minor controversy when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, the gatekeeper. Personally, I don't have a problem with casting against type, and I think Elba has some serious potential as an actor. He did good work in a small part here, and that should be where the controversy begins and ends.
|What, he doesn't look Swedish?|
Thor is different from every other superhero movie that has come out because it is more than a superhero tale --- it has to be mythic. While it doesn't get everything exactly right, I think this is a pretty entertaining action movie with some impressive fantasy elements in it. The well thought-out work that was done to bring Asgard and Jotunheim to life helps elevate this movie above some of the more mediocre elements in its makeup.