During the early 2000s it seemed like superhero movies were all the craze… okay, they were. But over the last few years they’ve suddenly become fewer and farther between. Maybe it’s because by the end of the gluttonous era it seemed to be getting a little long-winded. While I might not completely agree with that, the last few were not as favored by the hardcore geeks as they were by me. Spider-man 3 is nowhere near the monstrosity as others may claim; The Incredible Hulk was not the financial one-upmanship that Marvel was hoping for after Ang Lee’s Hulk; and even X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn’t the total disaster it’s been accused of being.
While X-Men: The Last Stand is far from a great film, it’s still admittedly better than either of the two Fantastic Four films we shall never forget the plague of Ghost Rider, Catwoman, and Elektra, just because Christopher Nolan blessed us with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And maybe Kenneth Branagh may not have been the first person who springs to mind in the director’s chair of a Marvel Comics Norse God of thunder based summer action flick. But we must remember that before he was tasked with Thor, he also brought us no less than five Shakespearean adaptations and has shown his hand at everything from period dramas to murder mysteries along the way. Final result – mission accomplished.
In bringing Thor to the big screen, I’m sure it was tasked by the credited writers (Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz, and Don Payne) to come up with something believable for modern audiences. Most people who buy a ticket probably won’t even have much background with the Thor character (I know I don’t) aside from knowing it’s the latest chapter in the ever-expanding universe of crossover films leading up to the big one next year – The Avengers. While some may have complained about Iron Man 2 playing like just another piece of that puzzle, it definitely stood on its own and was every bit the sequel to better the original than was given credit. This summer also sees the release of Captain America: The First Avenger; which with the team’s inclusion of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) makes no sense whatsoever, but who’s counting? Obviously not Marvel’s marketing department.
With an opening scene featuring Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) checking out weather disturbances in New Mexico, they literally crash their car into Thor in a scene right out of Twister. We then cut to a prologue from Asgard, featuring the voiceover of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) telling his two sons, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the age-old drama about the evil Frost Giants of Jotunheim who’s leader Laufey (Colm Feore), is in a truce with Odin ever since he managed to seize their Casket of Ancient Winters (aka source of power).
When a trio of Frost Giants enters Asgard to take back their Casket, Thor, along with his trusty “sidekicks” the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano); and childhood friend Sif (Jaimie Alexander), wind up threatening to break his father’s truce with the Frost Giants from venturing to Jotunheim to find out how they managed to slip into Asgard undetected. After a spectacular battle sequence, Thor is renounced of his godliness due to his arrogance and cast down to Earth along with his hammer Mjolnir of which is no longer of his use after Odin casts a spell upon it allowing only someone of worth to be able to wield its power from hereon.
Cutting back to Earth, we catch up with Jane, Darcy, and Erik as they whisk Thor away to the hospital and then back to their homebase of sorts. Sooner than later, Thor is of course taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. through the order of agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. has found Thor’s hammer and built a small city of scientific discovery around it. To keep things simple, Thor discovers he no longer wields his hammer’s power, Erik begins to believe Thor really may be the God of thunder, and Jane begins to fall in love with the man who smashes his coffee mug demanding another after he discovers he likes it. There’s also subplots involving double-crosses and the Frost Giants potentially wreaking havoc upon Asgard after Odin falls into Odinsleep. A word of advice would be to steer clear of the film’s wiki page to keep anything under further wraps before viewing dear reader, you’ve been warned.
Branagh and his writers keep things zooming merrily along for one of the fastest 114 minutes so far this year. The whole film features an epic scope worthy of the best Shakespearean tragedies. And while some may balk at his overuse of slant shots, here’s a film where they’re far more fitting in keeping things looking as epic as they deserve as opposed to a lack of visual ideas ala John Patrick Shanley’s misuse in Doubt. The converted 3-D is also less burdensome than most of what’s been offered, but unless you see it in IMAX 3-D (which I unfortunately did not), it ultimately adds little unless there’s an action scene happening. Thankfully, however, there’s many.
Meanwhile, Branagh keeps things familiar for himself by bringing in composer Patrick Doyle who’s also worked with Branagh before on every single film he’s directed. Something you rarely see outside of say, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, but a good idea nonetheless as the score is all too fitting. The cast brings a level of groundedness and surprising hilarity keeping in tone fittingly with the Iron Mans, along with Branagh managing to keep the suspension of disbelief from getting smashed to oblivion. I’m sure this is one of the key elements that have managed to keep Thor in development hell for so long before. And finally, as much as I may have loved last week’s early summer entry Fast Five, Thor officially blasts the summer movie season into the stratosphere and keeps all upcoming superhero entries on their toes. And also be sure to stick through the end credits for the expected pay-off scene.
Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures