Screen Rant’s Vic Holtreman reviews Thor

While I suppose Fast Five has claimed the early bird title of the film that kicked off the U.S. 2011 summer movie season, Thor is starting off what will be a summer heavy with superhero films. The question on everyone’s mind is will it start things off with a bang or a whimper?

Overall the story is pretty straightforward: Thor is the favored son of Odin over brother Loki, Thor is not shy about his position (poor self-esteem is NOT one of his problems), he disobeys his father, bringing danger to Asgard, is banished, and must somehow become “worthy” in order to regain his place (and power) in the kingdom.

Banishment sends Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth – specifically to the outskirts of a very small town in New Mexico and into the company of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Jane is an astrophysicist whose research lies outside the mainstream – she’s a bit of a free spirit (for a scientist). Working with her is a veteran scientist  played by Stellan Skarsgård and a young, annoyingly goofy assistant played by Kat Dennings. They come upon the relatively de-powered Thor and can’t seem to separate themselves from his company.

Thor’s arrival was followed by that of the mighty Mjolnir, his magic-imbued (or here, in the film, more science than magic) hammer. Mjolnir comes to the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. and our favorite man in black, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Mjolnir can only be lifted/used by those who are worthy, and due to his being cast out, Thor is not able to retrieve it from the compound surrounding it.

Meanwhile, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in Asgard and up to no good. He eventually delivers a message to Thor that leaves our erstwhile hero completely disheartened and resigned to his fate – to live out the rest of his life as a mere mortal on Earth.

The film has two very distinct personalities: Asgard (and the celestial realm) – and Earth (specifically, small town New Mexico). When the film is in Asgard and points beyond, it is completely engaging and engrossing. Complaints about how silly the costumes/armor looked in early photos will vanish, as they look like they completely belong. While there is a bit of humor, there is no tongue-in-cheek to be found in these off-world locations, and I for one was very thankful for that.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in 'Thor'

Asgard is where the movie really shines, and it is there that Tom Hiddleston, as Loki, steals the film. Director Kenneth Branagh coaxes a nuanced performance from him that is very far from a mustache-twirling villain. He is not just conflicted – you can actually be tempted to take his side despite the dark path he follows. He just does an amazing job and will probably be a lot of folks’ favorite character from the film.

Anthony Hopkins is as regal and powerful as ever – and when early on he puts Thor in his place with a mighty bellow you’ll feel like maybe you should shut the heck up and pay attention as well. Ray Stevenson as “bulky” warrior Volstag is nigh unrecognizable under all that beard and hair but he plays the boisterous soldier well and with a touch of fun. Jaimie Alexander is a believable female warrior and acquits herself well – playing it strong while still seeming a lady.

A contender for “favorite character” in the film will be Idris Elba as Heimdall, the sentry and gatekeeper of Asgard. He is not on screen very long, but he’s a commanding presence every time he appears. He has a regal, noble, powerful sense about him that commands and holds your attention, and you’ll be wishing he had more screen time in the movie.

Idris Elba as Heimdall in 'Thor'

And then we have the part of the story that takes place on Earth. This is where the trademark Marvel movie humor was injected into the film, and for me, much of it was overly goofy and overused. There were a couple of funny moments that were a bit more restrained that I enjoyed (a post-drinking scene between Hemsworth and Skarsgård was short, subtle and quite funny).

The tone for the humor in the film was set right from the opening, which had me groaning and concerned for what might come during the course of the movie. I found the opening scene semi-ludicrous (imagine a tornado chaser wanting to drive right INTO the tornado, that also has a lightning storm happening inside it), and the sophomoric humor brought to the first few scenes courtesy of Dennings’ character left me cold (although the audience I was with seemed to enjoy it). Things evened out over time (thankfully), but still, parts of the movie that took place on Earth left me yearning for a return to Asgard.

To his credit, Chris Hemsworth did a fine job playing the supremely arrogant Thor – arrogant even without his super-powers. He softened by the end of the film (a bit too suddenly, I think) but he was believable on both sides of the personality shift. He was very charming even in his arrogance. Natalie Portman didn’t really have a lot to do here and seemed like she could have been played by most any attractive young thirty-something actress – nothing really of note in her performance. Then again, she really wasn’t given much to do.

Chris Hemsworth as the de-powered Thor

Asgard interiors looked amazing, although the exteriors looked a little to “Star Wars prequel” for my taste. The design they came up with for the rainbow bridge was both impressive (you try making a “rainbow bridge” real) and effective. Another great design was that of the gateway – very visually interesting in both appearance and function. Jotunheim, the planet of the Frost Giants was appropriately vast and barren, although the monstrous creature seen in the trailers looked a bit CGI-ish.

There were multiple battles throughout the film to keep action-lovers sated, and although the final battle on Earth seemed a bit disappointing, the early battle with the Frost Giants from Jotunheim and a final face-off in Asgard are pretty damned epic. Especially in the former you definitely get a sense of the incredible power of Thor. If I have any complaints it’s that the fight scenes were shot in that uber-annoying, close-in, super-choppy-editing style. The darkness in some of the scenes compounded with the darkening of the 3D glasses/effects made some of it look extremely murky.

Speaking of 3D, while I think the concept of post-production 3D is terrible (if you’re going to make a 3D movie, SHOOT it using 3D cameras), I didn’t see any of the usual telltale signs of after-the-fact 3D: the back of an actor’s head floating apart from his face, the look of 2D layers separated by artificial depth, etc. On the other hand, there’s nothing much here to make this worth seeing in 3D. If you can see it in 2D, I recommend you just do that instead.

For the Marvel fans, the appearance of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in the film seemed superfluous – it was there more as a tie-in to the Avengers movie and as a little Easter egg for you. Yes, they did incorporate Thor’s alter-ego Donald Blake into the film in a offhand and creative way – and I will not spoil for you how Thor used his hammer and whether it matched his use of Mjolnir in the comics. simple smile Thor Review

Overall, Thor was a very enjoyable ride that combined epic action and scenery, but not at the expense of letting the audience get to know some great characters. Right now I’d say this is probably the second best Marvel-produced superhero movie, behind the first Iron Man.

If you want to talk freely about the film without worrying about spoiling it for others, please head on over to our Thor Spoilers Discussion.

Here’s a trailer for Thor:

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Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)