Mark Reviews Movies



3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 5/6/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 5, 2011

The gods of olden mythology always upstaged those bland, puny humans who worshipped and feared them in the legends. It is through the actions of the gods in those tales—for good or for ill—that we see ourselves in our potential for the best and the worst, and Thor at least understands that reality. Sure, this is not technically Thor, the Norse god of thunder, but a superhero from the Marvel universe who is technically Thor, the Norse god of thunder, except that his title of "god" is only granted to him by ancient humans who had no concept of the possibility of life beyond their knowledge of the world, let alone an Einstein-Rosen Bridge.

A bridge of that kind connects Thor's world of Asgard to the planet Earth, specifically a remote area of desert outside a small town in New Mexico, and at those two locations, two separate but somehow congruous plots with very dissimilar tones play out. In the grand, golden, open spaces of Asgard, there is a big, brash melodrama about a wobbly treaty between eternally warring realms, a struggle for the crown of a king in decline, a secret heritage, a group of loyal warriors, traitorous manipulations, and more. Meanwhile on Earth, the movie maintains a sense of humor about itself with its fish-out-of-water story of Thor attempting to regain his former strength. He used to be able to fly into the air and bring his hammer crashing down to the ground, causing a massive terrestrial collapse, and now finds himself relatively powerless—relatively in that he can defeat a string of guards at a covert base in the desert but has difficulty with a particularly brawny one.

The juxtaposition of the two realms serves an important role in this origin story. It is, at its basics, not about how Thor (played with no shortage of rugged charm by Chris Hemsworth) gained his powers, but how he regains them by becoming a legitimate hero. At the start, he is the arrogant, spoiled son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruler of Asgard whose metallic eye-patch, earned in a battle for humanity against the conquering Frost Giants, seems an entirely organic part of him. Odin knows and wears the consequences of war and has decided a truce with Laufey (Colm Feore), king of the icy warriors, is best for every corner of the interconnected Nine Realms.

Thor has other ambitions, especially after a few rogue agents from the Frost Giants' home of Jotunheim invade Asgard to reclaim a glowing, blue casket that holds the key to their own power. Despite the mission's failure, Thor sees it as an act of war, and he leads a retaliatory assault against the Frost Giants to destroy them.

As a result, Odin banishes his son to Earth, taking away Thor's mighty hammer and all of his previous potency.  On Earth, he meets Jane (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist investigating the strange appearances of an aurora in the same location of the desert, who literally runs into Thor with her research trailer. Thor must regain his hammer and return to Asgard to recover his rightful place as successor to the crown.

Asgard is a striking place, with mountainous towers marking civilization on a plateau floating through the void of space. It ends, in the way people once believed the Earth simply stopped—water flowing over the edge in a waterfall into the vacuum and stars farther than the eye can see. These are some grand sights in the production design and function to highlight the over-the-top story proceeding within them—a massive celebration unfolding in a cavernous hall here, a vital revelation about Loki's ancestry played out on a tall, narrow staircase there. The battle on Jotunheim, a desolate, frozen wasteland, incorporates the terrain as much as it does the freezing skills of its inhabitants and a giant beast that Thor takes down with deadly, forceful efficiency.

Director Kenneth Branagh does not shy away from the histrionics of the prologue and Asgard subplot of the screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne and instead embraces them, making the tonal shift all the more surprising and effective. For a film take the silliness of the extended introduction to Thor's world rather seriously, it quickly recognizes the absurdity of a man who envisions himself a brazen warrior without the means to do much in the ways of heroics.

In removing those traits that typically make a superhero from its protagonist, Thor makes him stand out from the growing crowd. By the end, fighting a monstrous foe amidst his new human friends, he learns virtues as diverse as its two main plot threads (on the one hand, humility and, on the other, that genocide is not the answer to conflict), and he is a better superhero for it.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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