Thor is a masterpiece of a film, and it easily ranks among the very best of anything I’ve ever seen from the superhero genre. With a simple but moving story coupled with exciting action, Marvel Studios constructs a superbly executed origin story that I can’t wait to see more of.
Those who have studied Norse mythology will likely be familiar with Thor’s home realm, Asgard. It’s beautifully rendered in this movie, somewhat like a golden version of the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz, complete with flowing waterfalls, fanciful architecture, and a techno-rainbow bridge known as the Bifrost. It is here that the movie begins, and it is here that Thor, god of thunder and lightning, is set to inherit the throne from his father Odin. Thor, however, has not inherited his father’s evenhanded temperament, desiring instead to wage open and unprovoked war against the frost giants opposing Odin and Asgard. Thor’s arrogance, displayed by way of him smashing through dozens of giants, endangers his friends and eventually all of Asgard. As such, for this and for his open defiance of his father, Thor is stripped of his power and banished to Earth. His hammer, Mjolnir, is also thrown to Earth, to be wielded only by a worthy hero.
(The opening action scene is pretty impressive on a number of levels: it’s pretty competent at the basest level, but more importantly, because of the perils it shows Thor bringing upon his friends, it never really lets the almighty Thor ignore the consequences of his actions.)
Thor and his hammer wind up in New Mexico, about fifty miles apart from each other. The same area is home to an astrophysicist named Jane Foster, and thanks to a number of chance encounters, the two quickly establish something of an awkward friendship. Thor is very much a brute at heart, and he quickly begins wreaking havoc (small-scale, on the level of breaking mugs) in the name of his own special brand of hedonism. It doesn’t take long before shady agents from the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. seize all of Jane’s research and equipment in what seems like a worst-case TSA scenario. Shortly thereafter, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents build a small ‘base’ around Mjolnir’s crash site as they attempt to extract the hammer.
The movie’s portrayal of the connection between science and magic is very interesting–while it holds some obvious elements that viewers will need to take with a grain of salt, its encouragement of being open-minded toward new and different understandings of our universe is a good one.
It is at this point that Thor learns to truly care about others, even if his means are somewhat questionable: He invades the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, not only to try to get Mjolnir back but also to retrieve Jane’s research. As an action hero, Thor is borderline unstoppable–in this case he pummels pretty much everyone in the S.H.I.E.L.D. base without breaking a sweat. This makes the fight scenes fun to watch, but because Thor is so ridiculously overpowered even without his hammer, these scenes lack much of any sense of emotional weight unless innocent people are involved.
The film’s first big plot twist is done well in terms of evoking emotion, but it’s not difficult to see coming if the viewer pays attention to the beginning of the film. While it is true that events at this point can be dubbed as “just deserts,” it is at least somewhat heartbreaking to see the film’s first big climax basically lead to nothing.
From there the film develops its simple yet careful story that functions somewhat more as a comedy than as an action film, probably in the name of keeping the film’s already high budget down. The real “silver bullet” of the plot isn’t a magic item or a special ability so much as being normal, regular human interaction. Thor and Jane grow as friends, and unlike Tony Stark in the Iron Man series, Thor is absolutely a gentleman. He never treats Jane like a sex object or like anything less than a princess, nor does he ever stalk her or manipulate her in the name of her well-being.
The main villain’s motivations are simple and somewhat unreasonable, stemming primarily from misunderstanding and personal jealousy. The S.H.I.E.L.D. (that word is so annoying to type!) subplot is resolved but not really elaborated upon: the film never really explains the nature of the agency, and inasmuch as I can recall, the agency’s motivations and goals are never really made clear. S.H.I.E.L.D. winds up as a sort of throwaway villain, primarily one that exists for the sake of giving Thor something to do while the actual antagonist brings his own plot to fruition.
Thor really does grow and develop as a character, and without wanting to spoil too much, there is a definite “love-your-enemies” message running through the plot, and that message is certainly worthy of praise. The film climaxes with a powerful display of self-sacrifice that just seems so much more poignant and, dare I say, situationally common than the time-honored cliche of laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
Most of the other characters in the film are primarily flat, but they’re still fun to watch. There are very few scenes of overacting, and by and large the cast does a great job. Anthony Hopkins is, of course, completely convincing in his role as Thor’s father Odin, even without being a major character for most of the film. In terms of being emotionally convincing, Natalie Portman’s come a long way from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Kat Dennings’ portrayal of Darcy Lewis, a co-worker of Jane’s, is hilarious, full of verbal and behavioral eccentricities and character quirks that make Darcy feel less like a “movie character” and more like a believable human being, despite her lack of an elaborate backstory or of a significant impact on the events of the story.
The art and music in this film are amazing. Patrick Doyle’s compositions, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (!), lend the whole film a stirring and majestic atmosphere. The art direction is usually of two different extremes, as most of the film takes place either in the stunningly idyllic but somewhat fake-looking realm of Asgard, or in a small yet pleasant community in New Mexico. The film doesn’t really have an even distribution of action, with most of it being at either the very beginning or the very end of the film. A particular Foo Fighters song is put to great use early on in the movie, shortly after Thor arrives on Earth, but the subtlety of the moment is lost when the same song is used for the end credits. The song’s appropriateness remains, however.
It’s exceedingly rare that a movie makes me so highly anticipate a sequel, but I can’t imagine how I could be more excited for the return of Thor and Jane and company. With a slightly more elaborate plot, even with not quite as many subplots as Iron Man 2 tried valiantly but failed to really develop, it shouldn’t be difficult for Marvel to make a wonderful and memorable film franchise.