Note: This is part four of our ten day retrospective that looks back at Phase’s One and Two from Marvel Studios. Check in with us daily as we reflect over the cinematic journey that Marvel has taken us on before the release of the their highly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Many moons ago when I first heard Marvel Studios were developing a Thor movie, I can admit that I held many trepidations about the feature. 2008’s Iron Man proved to be an absolute home-run, fusing intelligent comedy, action and superhero conventions tightly into a world I could believe in. Thor, however, was a god. How was I ever to accept Tony Stark (of the technical-science world) working alongside the Norse god of thunder (of the fantastical realm of Asgard). I knew Marvel were building each individual franchise for the eventual Avengers movie, but how was all of this going to work on film?
At the time of casting, Chris Hemsworth was a little known Australian actor with broad shoulders and a chiseled jaw-line. He gave a supremely rousing 3-minute performance as George Kirk in J.J Abrams’ Star Trek reboot in 2009, but that was hardly enough of a sample size to know how just good this kid could be.
Adding to my uncertainty was the hiring of Oscar-nominated director Kenneth Branagh, who until this point was mostly synonymous with Shakespearean fare. He was unproven and untested in the game of science fiction and action movie directing.
But as time has revealed, both of these key acquisitions proved to be master strokes from Marvel Studios and confirmed that this company were the high rollers at this table.
Thor managed to ground its fantastical material with wit, humour and plenty of drama that so easily could have become farcical and parodic. Branagh’s skills with Shakespearean overtones offered a different (and much needed) spin from our conventional comic book films and added some Arthurian grandeur to the proceedings. While the film wasn’t quite to the level of the original Iron Man, it was far better than the missteps that were The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2.
The film begins with a brief introduction to a group of scientists, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), chasing abnormal celestial activity in the deserts of New Mexico. Only to accidentally strike down a strange towering man (Thor) with their car. Upon Portman’s questioning of “where did he come from”, we are transported to the majestic, mythical and visually captivating world of Asgard where Odin (Anthony Hopkins – who is suitably god-like) is readying to coronate Thor as his successor.
When all is spoiled by intruding Frost Giants, an outraged and arrogant Thor knowingly breaks a long-standing truce between the Giants and Asgard and starts a cosmic war. This act of haste and foolishness forces Odin to strip Thor of all his power and banish him to Earth, along with his hammer, Mjolnir. In his great wisdom, Odin declares that if Thor could prove he is indeed worthy of such power, he could one day wield it again.
As the story continues, the fish-out-of-water tale, while not revolutionary or groundbreaking, proves to be thoroughly entertaining, which is helped largely by a surprisingly funny and smart script from Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne. Thor constantly and seamlessly shifts between Earth and Asgard, creating a believable connection between the two worlds. In one film, the filmmakers diffused quite possibly the greatest obstacle in the way of establishing the universe for the upcoming Avengers movie.
While the special effects spectacle is sure to please popcorn junkies and fanboys alike, Thor’s success comes largely from its performances. Branagh’s Bardly expertise certainly provided his cast with the requisite skills needed to commit themselves to the heighten world they were part of. Star Chris Hemsworth is simply a brilliant Thor. Not only does he have the physique of a warrior prince, but he oozes the charisma and charm of a leading man. The actor brilliantly sells the arrogance and flair of Thor in battle, as well as the passion and subtlety needed for the quieter more character driven moments.
Likewise, a film is only ever as good as its villain and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is one of the most realised and well-developed villains in any superhero film. His characterisations, motivations and decisions are not carbon copies of previously ill-conceived and ridiculous superhero villain archetypes. His turn to villainy is slow and painful. Loki loves his father and his brother, but his past and his own personal demons prevent him from ever accepting who he really is. It’s all very Shakespearean tragedy-esque.
Despite my affections for the film, it is not without its flaws. The burden of delivering so many CGI sequences, has ultimately lead to some less than convincing shots and moments, which I did find jarring and distracting. To add to this, the entire third act, or lack thereof, is slightly disappointing. It just seems a little too rushed, with some clumsy execution, which is a shame given how good the first two thirds were. The lack of a proper action finale seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of Branagh, whose inexperience in this genre is exposed when it matters most.
All in all, Thor proves doubters like myself wrong and remains an entertaining and incredibly fun movie that just misses out on greatness. With it, Marvel Studios introduced another supremely likeable member of the Avengers team and made stars out of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
Next up – Captain America!