Reviewed by Galen Strickland
First off, understand this review is written by someone who is not a comic geek. I read the occasional Superman or Batman back in the day, usually a friend's copy, rarely bought any of my own. I know that in the past I may have made some comments that comic fans might have construed as negative toward the format, but I don't really feel that way, they just never appealed to me the way they did for others. I consider them just one more venue for telling a story, just as SF and Fantasy are alternate ways of telling a story that could probably be told in a more mainstream fashion. That out of the way, I will say I always try to judge a film on its merits alone, not considering the source material or the subject matter, just the way the filmmakers have put it all together. In this case, I was extremely pleased with the way it came out. I had some doubts about Branagh as the director, but since the story and characters (at least in this film, not sure about the comics) are very Shakespearean, he was a good choice.
Again, not sure how the origin story was handled in the comics, but here Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the rest are inhabitants of Asgard, another planet (also probably in another spatial dimension from Earth). They are depicted as beings worshipped as gods by the Norsemen, but not exclusive to them, just that the legend of Odin's banishment of the Frost Giants from their lands is what had been remembered by that one region of Earth. A thousand or more years later, the Frost Giants make an attempt to retrieve from Asgard an important relic, and they are aided by a traitor within Asgard. Thor is impetuous, and against his father's orders, journeys to the Frost Giants' realm to seek vengeance. Odin intervenes in an attempt to maintain a peace between the two realms, and as a consequence banishes Thor to Earth stripped of his powers. It is here that Natalie Portman enters the story as Jane Foster, an astro-physicist who has been researching strange phenomena in the New Mexico desert. She and her co-workers (Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings) witness Thor's arrival on Earth amidst what appears to be a tornado-like storm.
I don't want to reveal too many more details, even though the plot can probably be deduced by anyone who knows just this little bit of the story so far. I won't say this is a great film, but it is very entertaining, certainly not cheesy or cringe-worthy in any aspect like some other adaptations. It would have been nice if they hadn't relied on so much CGI, but for this type of story I guess that was inevitable. Some of the action scenes and SFX are a bit chaotic, but overall it was handled as well as could be expected. The acting is almost univerally top-notch, with Hopkins' gravitas especially effective. Hemsworth impressed me quite a bit as well, along with Tom Hiddleston as his brother Loki. Natalie Portman is a great actress, yet her role could have been handled by any number of others. She's good here, but it was no stretch for her as an artist.
If I had listed all of the cast that impressed me that overview column to the right would be much longer, but I'll put them in here. Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas and Tadanobu Asano are noble warriors and loyal friends of Thor's, who come to his rescue full well knowing it may mean their own banishment from Asgard. Rene Russo has little to do, but is effectively regal as Thor's mother, Queen Frigga. Colm Feore is impressive as the Frost Giant king Laufey, in spite of the heavy makeup which I read took five hours a day to apply. When casting for Thor was first announced, many objected to the inclusion of Idris Elba as Heimdall, the guardian of the Bifrost portal between the various realms. The argument was that there would have been no person of African-like heritage in the pantheon of the Norse gods, but with Asgard being another planet there is no reason there would not be many different racial types just as there are on Earth. Not sure if there was a similar argument against the Asian Asano as one of Thor's warriors, but I didn't keep up with all the details leading up to filming. I say it makes no difference.
If this is still in a theater near you, wait through the (very long) credits (or if you wait for the DVD release, fast-forward through them) for a sneak-peak scene concerning the upcoming Avengers, which features Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgård. It is probably not a scene that will appear in that film, just a teaser, but it was written and directed by Joss Whedon, who is working on the Avengers feature to be released next summer.
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