Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

Today I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (2011)

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Thor is a superhero derived, obviously, from Norse myth and imbued with elements of space opera and sword and sorcery.  This film paints him and his Aesir family as aliens with technology so powerful it is indistinguishable from magic.  Thor is the prince of these people and his father Odin, their aging king.  Before Odin can pass the crown on, the ancient frost giant enemies of the Aesir try to steal an artifact from Asgard.  Thor retaliates by taking his own merry band of adventurers to Jotunheim to fight the frost giants, but this angers Odin who does not want another war.  In his anger, Odin exiles Thor to Earth and strips him of his divine powers, locking them in the hammer Mjolnir until Thor proves himself worthy of wielding it.  While in exile, Thor meets a trio of scientists who are trying to understand certain astral phenomena which, as it happens, was caused by the Aesir’s primary mode of travel, an interdimensional rainbow bridge named Bifrost.  Turns out that this banishment was all a plan set in motion by Thor’s jealous and power hungry brother Loki and it is up to Thor to prove himself worthy in time to foil this dastardly scheme.

This film tries to blend a lot of visual ideas and styles into a rather odd whole.  There is this epic space fantasy going on in Asgard but Thor on Earth is a rather understated fish out of water comedy.  While it is interesting an unique, I don’t think the approach is entirely successful.  I thought the film needed more time to set up the elaborate fantasy elements and many of the Aesir characters do not get any development.  Thor’s band of fellow warriors consists of, the one who eats a lot, the one who is a woman, the Asian one, and the one who has dialogue but I cannot for the life of me ascribe any defining traits too.  At the very least the film nails an incredible art style with the space fantasy and Asgard has an incredibly evocative look to it.  When cutting back to the Earth plot another problem raises it’s head, the human characters are wholly unimportant and bland, they don’t even get the cool costumes all the god/aliens have.  Natalie Portman gives one of her worse performances and she is backed up by the incredibly annoying comic relief of Kat Dennings.  Portman plays Jane Foster and the romantic subplot makes me feel like I went too hard on her similarly tepid romance in Star Wars.

What works unequivocally about this movie is the character of Thor himself and, of course, the actor who portrays him, Chris Hemsworth.  Thor is a lot like Tony Stark in the beginning of this film, a wildly arrogant and impulsive ass.  But quickly this film cuts him down to size and Anthony Hopkins, who plays Odin, chews him out for essentially not being superhero material and then strips him of his power.  Thor, unlike Stark, has to then go through a character arc and learn to be responsible and humble so he can be worthy of being called a superhero.  It’s a great internal story told very well by Hemsworth who is a charismatic and talented star without question, even in the character’s most idiotic and arrogant moods I can see why his fellows follow him, he is damn charismatic.  Tom Hiddleston plays Loki opposite Hemsworth and is the most successful villain these Marvel movies have had yet (he won’t last unfortunately.)   His schemes are effective and actually have a purpose which he almost accomplishes, his powers are in direct opposition to Thor’s brute force which also makes him threatening in a unique way.  He is a smart villain whose plans still hold together in retrospect and reveal dramatic depths to his character.

This film may have it’s handful of problems, but I think it overcomes them somewhat and delivers a rather fun flick.  It is pure operatic and Wagnerian cheese, channeling some of the sillier elements of fantastical pulp in a creative and knowing way.  The woeful comic relief and the inconsistent pacing does weigh it down though, the story beats are also nothing special.  It may be forgettable, but it is inoffensive and entertaining, a fun twist on both the myth and comic character and a reasonable superhero fable.  3/5

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