June 16, 2011
Let’s be honest, Thor is kind of a lame Superhero. He’s the Norse God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and wields an awkwardly giant hammer like a yo-yo. Put this dude in a lineup between Iron Man and Captain America and Thor looks dorkier than Tobias Fünke. So naturally, I was very skeptical as to how Marvel was going to pull this off. My hat is off to Marvel Studios and director Kenneth Branagh, because Thor is one solid movie.
Thor is an excellent example of “willing suspension of disbelief.” In other words, “are you gonna buy into this premise or not?” You can skeptically complain, “those helmets look dorky, Thor’s costume is too shiny, frost giants? …this movie is crap!” Or you can choose to enjoy the fantastical setting and see if Thor delivers. So much of our enjoyment is based on choices. we can choose to be overly critical or choose to enjoy something different. And if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, Thor packs a wallop.
The film explains that Thor and his fellow Asgardians are an extra-terrestrial race who the ancients mistook for Gods. Thor describes Asgard as “a place where science and magic are one in the same.” Asgardians have immense physical power but also wield incredibly technology (like building a “Rainbow Bridge” that teleports adventurers between planets). Science Fiction has a long-held tradition of explaining ancient deities as powerful alien beings (see Star Trek: The Original Series), so Thor’s explanation felt simple and familiar.
Marvel ones again proves they can line up a terrific cast. Chris Hemsworth is likeable, heroic, and perfect as the brash and arrogant Thor. Tom Hiddleson is subtle, creepy, and his portrayal of Loki reminded me of Wormtongue. Anthony Hopkins is iconic as Odin, a father trying to raise two sons while keeping peace. Natalie Portman‘s nerdy scientist pleasantly surprised me. If anything, Portman’s small stature makes Chris Hemsworth look all the more godlike in proportion.
Thor’s honorable relationship with Jane Foster (Portman) was a ‘stark’ contrast to Iron Man’s hedonism. There’s a brilliant moment where you think Thor and Jane will break for a self-indulgent kiss or a lusty romp in the bed, but instead Thor simply kisses Jane’s hand. This concept of honoring women and sex has practically disappeared from our culture; allowing Thor’s respect to not only surprise us, but to critique our lustful expectations as audience members.
My only disappointment with Thor was that it felt kinda short (115 minutes). I don’t mind lengthy films (Braveheart!) and would’ve enjoyed an additional 30 minutes for exposition, character depth, and action. The common complaint seems to be “not enough hammer smashing”. I could tell they were holding Thor back for the upcoming Avengers film.
Thor is truly a unique superhero movie. Kenneth Branagh is far more interested in themes of honor, pride, and family than pandering to our desire for explosions and lusty sidekicks. The action is there and Mjolnir pack’s a wallop, but hammer swinging isn’t what Thor’s here to do. Its about the journey of two princes and their father, the King. And ultimately, Thor is a hero who must be humbled before he can become a champion.