Thor (2011)

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Thor (2011)

Post  BoG on Tue Oct 28, 2014 1:11 am

Thor has long been known as a Norse god in mythology, going back a thousand years. But, he really became famous when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to make him a super-hero in their growing roster of Marvel Comics characters, in 1962, in Journey Into Mystery #83. In that inaugural story, a lame physician named Don Blake finds a cane in a hidden cave and is transformed into Thor when he strikes the cane on the ground; the cane turns into the famous hammer, Mjolnir. It was eventually revealed in the series that Odin, Thor's father, determined to teach his son humility, sent him to Earth with no memory and morphed into a weak human. As the son of Odin, Thor in his true form was perhaps the most powerful of the Marvel super-heroes, with titanic strength and a cosmic-powered hammer. The film doesn't bother with the Don Blake character, but it retains the premise of Thor's arrogance and pride, and Odin's judgment. Besides a 3-minute pre-credits sequence on Earth - a slow one at that - the early scenes are confined to Asgard, the city of the Norse gods.

ABOVE: the key issue, #159 (1968) which revealed how and why Odin banished his son Thor to Earth

There are some things this film does very well, such as the casting (Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Tom Hiddleston as Loki), and other things it doesn't, such as a clumsy script: it's understood that Thor is too full of himself and immature, but why would Odin be turning the throne over to him near the beginning? Thor, with his buddies (Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun), decides to confront the Frost Giants over an ancient item of power - all but starting a new war - and Odin finally realizes that his son needs a serious attitude adjustment. So, away to Earth Thor goes, stripped of his power (this was already hinted in a post-credits scene in Iron Man 2-2010). And, on Earth is where the story really starts to meander. Thor, now just a tall blonde hunk who gets injured quickly, makes the acquaintance of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist situated in a small New Mexico town.

ABOVE: Thor's buds - Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson)

The picture is also saddled by one of those very dopey characters, Foster's female assistant, the one who injures the now-mortal Thor with a tazer gun. Many action films of the past couple of decades have such a character - the one who says all the stupid things and behaves like a moron. I think  screenwriters and filmmakers think every film needs one of these for the audience to identify with, which shows the elitism of modern filmmakers - their belief is that most of the audience is pretty dopey. Also dopey is the story arc during Thor's first day on Earth as a mortal. I'm surprised that director Kenneth Branagh was responsible for all this; he's well experienced in Shakespearean grand drama but seemed content to ground this film in juvenile plot turns - Thor keeps getting knocked out as if in a Marx Bros comedy and the dialog is just inane - again, mostly courtesy of Darcy (Kat Dennings), Foster's assistant.
All these weak scenes are on Earth; where Branagh and the film succeed is during the scenes in Asgard - there, Loki, Odin's other son, learns of his true heritage and it sets the stage not only for the plot thrust of this film but all the conflict in The Avengers (2012) and the Thor sequel. But, most of the scenes on Earth drag this film down; a lot of it seems almost aimless, even with the involvement of SHIELD and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who are investigating the possible threats from Asgard and the mystery of Thor's hammer. The character of Coulson has ended up being the connecting rod between all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as the TV series, Agents of SHIELD.  This Thor film was an early one in the plan, the 4th one and a part of Phase One.  It was meant to show Thor getting acquainted with Earth and facilitates his later involvement with the Avengers. There's even a cameo by one of the future team, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and - as to be expected - Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But, concentrating all the action on Earth in and near the small New Mexico town is an odd scripting choice, lending a quaint, mundane aspect to all that happens. Perhaps I'm just too accustomed to Thor's 4-color adventures on Earth being in NYC.
The film does pick up in the 2nd half - a lot of it revolves around the devious nature of Loki, but he also has his tragic side; this makes him perhaps the most interesting character. The dividing line between what is reality and what is myth also plays a large part in the film's 2nd half. One part of the plot involves Thor's downed hammer, Mjolnir, and there seems to be an over-emphasis on whether or not Thor can lift this weapon (only one worthy can lift the hammer and almost no one is able to). But, this emphasis is well-played - Thor appears to be a deluded fool to people, especially to Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), Foster's mentor, who stresses science over magic. So, when Thor's companions from Asgard and his power are eventually revealed as reality, it's a powerful moment, even as the audience was well expecting it. This revelation was foreshadowed by earlier discussions of magic vs. science, and how a truly advanced form of science may seem like magic to people. The climactic action involves the 10-foot tall mechanical creature, The Destroyer, a well-known adversary in the comics which was even more powerful than Thor and his hammer, but which Thor makes short work of in this film version. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
Thor Trivia: Thor & Loki would next appear in The Avengers (2012) and a post credits scene in this Thor film serves as a teaser to that film. Stan Lee has a cameo as a truck driver attempting to pull out Thor's hammer from its resting place. Also cameo by Chris Evans as Captain America, though this is Loki using his illusion powers. There's also a sly reference to the Don Blake character of the comics: at one point, Selvig tries to fool SHIELD agents into thinking that Thor is a distraught doctor named Don Blake.
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