Film Review: Thor (2011)

Sorry for the recent absence. I was in tech on a one night only fundraiser and stressed beyond belief. I was in no place to write anything.

It's hard to be the lesser known superhero franchise. Sure, you might get the boost of the Marvel or DC seal of approval or some well-known industry person supporting your film, but your only option for marketing is to swarm the media and hope people buy tickets. Even then, there's no guarantee that people will actually enjoy what they see or invest in the film itself.

Thankfully, Thor continues the recent wave of successful Marvel features with strong character development and interesting narrative started with Iron Man in 2008. The difference from the other films is the high amount of fantasy content written off by saying variants of "you call it magic, we call it science." It's a great choice that works well to establish the divide between the Thor's home world of Asgard and Earth.

In Asgard, Thor is about to be crowned the new king when frost giants--large ice-magic wielding creatures from another realm--attempt to steal back technology Asgard's King Odin claimed for his people during their last war. Thor becomes so enraged that he takes his bravest knights with him to battle the frost giants, setting off a wave of events that results in Thor being stripped of his powers by Odin and sent to Earth.

On Earth, a research team is attempting to prove Jane Foster's theories about the predictable appearance of wormholes based on meteorological patterns. Foster's method is correct even if her theory is not because the latest wormhole she encounters is Thor's banishment to Earth. Her team takes him to the hospital and into their lives when Jane realizes the mysterious Thor might be the answer to her life's work.

The separate narratives are actually combined together very nicely into a cohesive picture by screenwriters Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne. The goofiness of the faux-period Norse dialog is used for laughs at first to engage the audience before Asgard is surrounded in a realm of perilous action and drama. Earth is written just as bizarre a world as Asgard in a funny scene involving local residents competing to pull Thor's hammer out of the ground with everything from their hands to pick-up trucks. Once the relationship between the two astral planes is set and all the major players are introduced, the story can kick into full gear without relying on shock or camp to sell entertainment.

Shock and camp? There's plenty. Within the first ten minutes of the film I was beginning to wonder how a regular midnight screening could pan out. This was the initial effect of launching the story in Asgard with the elaborate metallic costumes and period speech that even the more experienced actors struggled to sell with honesty for the first few scenes. You could predict what the end of every bloated line was going to be as something always projected the punchline beforehand. At this point, every time, the film would then produce a shocking image of beauty or war or violence or grand scale. This worked as a sort of training ground for those uninitiated in the world of Thor.

It is to director Kenneth Branagh's credit that these moments come across as intentional decisions rather than bumbling accidents. Branagh was the perfect choice to direct Thor because he has made a career out of directing and starring in accessible and artistic adaptations of Shakespeare. His comedies are easy to laugh at and his tragedies easy to cry at. Branagh is able to mold the bizarre blend of styles, characters, and narratives into a cohesive film because he approaches it the same way he approaches Shakespeare: with respect and an eye for accessibility. What is Thor but a modern twist on the complicated and dense Norse mythology? Nothing. That's why Branagh's methods were the perfect choice for this film.

Thor is an enjoyable superhero movie with plenty of style, action, and meaningful character development. Even when good portions of the film are dedicated to building up to the forthcoming Avengers film, the film does not bore, confuse, or overstay its welcome. There is a joy to the world of Thor even in its darkest moments that hasn't really been explored in a superhero film before. It is a welcome change.

Rating: 7/10

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