May 17, 2011
By Sean O. Murphy
Let me explain for the uninitiated the allure of the Thor comic which I first started reading in the mid-eighties at the rip old age of ten or eleven and feel like I have a special understanding. Thor the comic can be explained in analogy. Thor is your older cousin’s room decorated in black light posters and smelling of incense. Thor is Led Zeppelin’s fourth album playing on crackling vinyl. It is a lava lamp. It is one of the more vague and dreamy of Marvel’s super hero comic titles. Some of Thor’s crazier issues consisted of Thor sort of just floating through space with his hammer, Mjolnir (which even I feel nerdy knowing how to spell even if I just recently learned to pronounce it correctly) and having adventures. Much of the comic is about giants, trolls and rainbow bridges. Does it get much more psychedelic and spaced out than that?
Thor is one part Homeric odyssey mixed with Tolkienesque swords and sorcery style fantasy like Lord of the Rings. Then it is all topped off with a little bit of science fiction just for fun. Mostly, that’s what Thor the comic was all about just spaced out fun.
Thor the movie doesn’t miss on any of these points. It tells with as much epic bombast as any summer movie the tale of the arrogant Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tricked by his jealous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to deny the wise commands of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor breaks an unsteady peace between his kingdom of Asgard and that of the Frost Giants. Odin is forced to exile Thor to Earth (specifically New Mexico) where he meets the astrophysicist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her quirky assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor is stripped of his power and his mighty hammer until a time that he proves himself worthy of it again. He comes into conflict with a covert agency with their own motives and interest in Thor’s hammer called S.H.I.E.L.D. with operations lead by Agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg) who was seen previously in the Iron Man franchise of movies.
I suspect now that the director, Kenneth Branagh known for high brow Shakespearian adaptations may secretly be as much a comic geek as many of us are. Branagh is true to the feel of the Thor comic while putting his own unique mark on the film by spotlighting the relationships between father and sons and a sibling rivalry as tragic as anything old Bill Shakespeare would write. Branagh brings us beautiful alien landscapes in brilliant 3D. Thor is fittingly serious on Asgard and has just the right amount of fish out of water slapstick while on Earth. Branagh shows us that he can mix the many elements of the Thor comic in just the right proportions and without ever taking itself too seriously. He even mixes in a touch of a classic western with two figures approaching each other down the dusty main street of a New Mexico town for an ultimate showdown.
All of the performances were handled well. I did wish that Natalie Portman had a little more to do than just blush over her new unearthly beau. Even as little more than comic relief, Kat Dennings brought us a more interesting character than Portman was allowed. Chris Hemsworth embodied the title character perfectly and Tom Hiddleston brought pathos to Loki that I never realized in that character before. Anthony Hopkins brought a touch of King Lear to his portrayal of Odin.
While more capable of standing alone than Iron Man 2, Thor did feel a bit incomplete. It felt a lot like getting to the last panel of a comic book and reading the block telling you that you have to wait another month for the next issue to see how it all turns out. We must patiently wait until 2012 and The Avengers film to see how Thor’s adventures continue. Any fan of Marvel films will know though to sit through the credits for a little hint of what might be ahead for the franchise. Also keep your eyes open during the film for afuture member of The Avengers in the form of a Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) cameo. Overall, Thor is a pretty mighty film that is true to its comic book origins.