Marvel struck gold with its decision to bring the Avengers superhero team to cinematic life, and “Thor” is a strong lead-up to the upcoming films “Captain America” in July and “The Avengers” next year.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the oldest son of the Norse god king Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is slated to take his father’s throne and reign in the heavenly kingdom of Asgard. But a long peace treaty with the defeated frost giants of Jotunheim is beginning to waiver, in large part due to Thor’s recklessness. To maintain the peace, Odin is forced to banish his obstinate and warmongering son to earth. Meanwhile, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s younger brother, begins positioning himself to take Asgard as his own.
On earth, the banished Thor, with the help of the beautiful scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), must learn self-control and self-sacrifice, or lose his inheritance – and life – to his treacherous brother.
This action-packed special effects ride boasts a strong cast and seasoned director. Kenneth Branagh is in the director’s seat, though it is far from his typical Shakespearean fare. He creates a visually stunning Asgard, combining the scientific sensibilities of medieval and renaissance Europe with hardened Norse style and modern theories on black holes. It gives Asgard a chiseled beauty, and creates a unique, believable realm for the gods. It’s good that so much time was spent on the details here, since most of the film takes place in Asgard, not on earth. The scenes in New Mexico are tiny in comparison, with a lonely western town and a make-shift S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) laboratory serving as the only real world settings in the film. Indeed, the film’s grandeur is only realized in its special effects.
Hemsworth is a great Thor, arrogant and comically oblivious of earth’s customs. Hiddleston skillfully captures both the confused, timidly scheming early Loki and the fully-realized nemesis that he becomes, and Hopkins, as usual, nails his role. Some of the other Norse supporters in Thor’s troop of friends are a bit cliché and goofy, but it’s less their fault than the writers’, and Portman’s research partners Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings are both great. In addition, Stan Lee and Jeremy Renner‘s Hawkeye make sweet cameos.
“Thor” is one of the most fantastic superheros. While others have some sort of scientific basis – they are brilliant inventors like Iron Man, genetic mutations like Wolverine or the product of science gone awry like Spider-Man – Thor, a god, is the intersection of science, magic and even a bit of spiritual force. As he says, “I come from a place where [science and magic] are one and the same.” But let’s face it, there’s a lot more magic, and that means viewers must suspend belief to a greater extent than in other films. Additionally, as the future king of the gods, Thor’s strength and skill are basically unmatched in Asgard, so while Loki’s trickery make him a formidable opponent, it’s clear that Thor is the stronger of the two. This means any climactic battle scenes have mostly predictable outcomes, though screenwriters Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne have found a way to deliver a surprise ending, and should be commended for it. But as a god among men, this challenge is sure to rise again in “The Avengers.” Joss Whedon will head that production though, and as a long-time fan of his work, I’m confident the challenge will be met and conquered.