“Do me a favour and don’t be dead”
After the first Iron Man (check out my review for it here), Thor was the second big gamble for Marvel. A superhero based on Norse mythology who talks like he’s in a Shakespeare play and wields a massive hammer? A lot could potentially have been lost from the comic book to the screen. Some things just don’t translate well. However, the job was entrusted to Kenneth Branagh, a director experienced in Shakespearian ways. And he brought us the first great Marvel Universe film in the process, and the first (and only?!?!?) great Marvel villain…
It begins much like Iron Man; we meet our hero in the present (after he’s been hit by a car driven by Jane Foster), and then we go back in time to see Thor’s beginnings. Antony Hopkins, as Odin, gives us a voiceover to tell us a quick history of Marvel’s version of Norse mythology. We see a massive battle between two races, the Asgardians and the Frost Giants. The Asgardians, led by King Odin, defeat the Frost Giants. We see young Thor and his brother, Loki, talking to Odin, their father. Already, Thor is thirsty for battle, while Loki is more reserved and quiet. Then we go to the present, to see how Thor came to be on earth. He defied his father to travel to Yondenheim, the planet of the Frost Giants. The Frost Giants had sneaked onto Asgard to retrieve the source of their power. They failed, but Thor wants vengeance. Battle ensues on Yondenheim, only stopped by Odin. Afterwards, he exiles Thor to earth and strips him of his powers and his mighty hammer, Mjolnir…
“No match for the mighty…”
It’s essentially a Shakespearian tragedy. Thinking about it, the plot is similar to the first Iron Man: the King of the Frost Giants, Laufey, appears to be the big villain. But he is merely used by the bigger villain, Loki, to rise to the throne of Asgard. However, unlike Obidiah Stane, Loki’s motivations are clear and present. The performance of, and the screen time devoted to, Tom Hiddleston as Loki gives us the best Marvel villain to date (that’s the reason he’s been used in two other Marvel films!). Right from the beginning, after the Frost Giants sneak into Asgard, you can see Loki is manipulating Thor into attacking Yondenheim.
All his life, Loki has played second fiddle to Thor. Thor was born to be king of Asgard, and has always been Odin’s favourite. Not only does Loki want to ascend to the throne, but he wants to prove to his father that he is worthy of it. Loki presents a real threat to Thor, as we are given reasons to feel sympathy with him as well. It means that their inevitable showdown has some emotional heft to it. And it isn’t the typical superhero vs supervillain clash, either. It’s a personal fight, without any buildings to destroy or cities to decimate.
“I will return for you”
It looks beautiful, both the CGI-realised Asgard and New Mexico. It’s often filmed at a slant, to give us the impression that we are seeing something unworldly. Of course, Marvel being Marvel, there is plenty of humour stuffed in. Especially so with Thor’s early scenes on Earth. Chris Hemsworth plays the fish out of water perfectly. As with Robert Downey Jr., it’s a perfect meeting of actor and role. One of my favourite scenes in all the Marvel films is when Thor throws a cup to the floor and shouts “This drink, I like it. Another!” I still laugh at it now. Another great scene is when Thor enters a pet shop and demands a horse. Chris Hemsworth convincingly changes throughout the film. He turns from an arrogant, bloodthirsty prince to a selfless, humble man. After his fall from Asgard to Earth (literal AND metaphorical!), he sees the good in Jane Foster and the good inside of himself.
However, there are some flaws among it all. Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Thor’s eventual love interest, looks barely bothered throughout the film (she looks even less interested during Thor: The Dark World). It means that their relationship doesn’t affect the audience at all. Hawkeye is shoved into the film just for The Avengers, and serves no other purpose. However, the flaws are few and far between. It’s the first Marvel film (and only?!?!?) to give us a great villain (for what is a superhero without a villain?). The superhero isn’t far behind, either.
VERDICT: 9/10. After several watches, I find it hard to fault Thor at all. The first Marvel film that didn’t rely solely on the hero to carry it. The plot, superhero and villain are all top-notch here.