I have to admit, I had some reservations about this film. I’m a die hard fan of Iron Man, and I didn’t know if Marvel’s film company would be able to pull of this shift towards the truly fantastic. Sure, Kenneth Brannagh was directing, and Anthony Hopkins was playing the role of Odin, but I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Ang Lee’s Hulk was one of the worst adaptations because of Lee’s lack of familiarity with the source material. By his own admission, Lee didn’t understand comic books, so he took the story as a father/son tragedy and made a film franchise that took Ed Norton to resurrect.
The story is fairly basic — Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is cast out of Asgard by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for breaking the peace between Asgard and Jotunheim. On Earth, he meets and befriends astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). While he struggles with what it means to be a hero of Asgard, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) ascends to the throne through treachery, eventually threatening all three worlds.
It’s a straightforward redemption arc for Thor, and while I think it might have been forced in some spots, it worked and worked well. Brannagh’s attention to detail pays off big time in many ways. Even the lesser characters act in manners that are consistent and natural throughout the whole film, be they SHIELD agents or Thor’s fellow Asgardians. Four key elements stood out in my mind.
First, they didn’t overdo the “stranger in a strange land” trope. The smashing of the cup on the diner floor, the little cultural differences, all that did not lead the film makers to doing things like Thor marvelling at the sight of a car or an ATM. My impression of Asgard was that of a technological society so advanced as to appear magical — that’s supported by Jane quoting Arthur C. Clarke. While they might have appeared god-like, the people of Asgard were more transhuman demigods/immortals. It appealed to both the fantasy and SF fan in me, and it was made better by the lack of dumbing anything down.
The second is Odin. I had feared that Sir Anthony Hopkins would be playing a “bookend” character. That Odin would be someone who would show up in the beginning to cast Thor out, and then show up at the end to say “atta boy, here’s your power back.” While he did spend some time in Odinsleep, his presence is still felt throughout all of the scenes in Asgard. Hopkins played the role well, and he was utilized just enough to be a fully viable character without overpowering the film.
Next is Jane Foster. I fully expected her to be Thor’s love interest in the film, however there’s a couple of things about her I didn’t expect. First, she goes after him. The most “pursuing” Thor does of Jane is to kiss her hand. Twice. He doesn’t really try to woo her at all. He acts like a gentleman to her throughout the film and when she kisses him before he goes off to fight Loki, it makes sense. Here’s a woman who just got out of a lousy relationship, meets a handsome guy who is genuinely nice to her, and it turns out he truly does have the power of a god to match his personal magnetism. Ladies, am I right in think that the whole god thing kind of seals the deal?
But what’s critical is something that doesn’t happen. Thor never rescues Jane. More importantly, Jane is never in a situation where Thor has to rescue her. The Damsel in Distress card is never played, and while I can’t argue that Natalie Portman makes for wonderful eye candy, we still have in Jane a well drawn character that’s more than a pretty face. I liked that and it raised the film to a higher level.
Lastly, we need to talk about Loki. By and large this is one of the best cinematic villains I’ve seen. Loki is not just some evil-for-its-own-sake-because-it’s-in-my-nature type of antagonist. It would have been easy to make him this way, but the filmmakers avoided that trope. Some of Loki’s early antics were done because he could get away with them, but for the main plot-arc Loki has some complex motivation going on. He struggles with his identity and tries to prove himself a worthy son to Odin — and he believes that latter part, even if his actions speak otherwise. He’s a sympathetic villain, and his characterization raises the bar even further.
I did not see this film in 3D, but from what I’ve heard I’ve made the right choice. Thor is one of the best comic book screen adaptations to date. It’s worth seeing, and it makes me all the more eager for The Avengers.