Sometimes I get tired of “realistic” superhero stories. It’s nice to be reminded that these characters exist in a world beyond ours, that they can accomplish feats we can only dream about.
That’s something that Thor does effortlessly. It’s a film crafted to constantly remind us of the otherworldliness of its protagonist, a fairly bold move for a Marvel movie. In fact, as the film opens, Thor the character is not relatable at all — he’s actually kind of a jerk. The movie takes us on a journey of his humbling, of his learning to cope in a world without entitlement and godlike powers, and of his becoming a hero on the other side.
The first and last parts of the film take place in the mythical land of Asgard, a realm of Norse gods and warriors where our hero makes his home. These scenes are overblown in the best way; all their talk of kingship, lineage, interdimensional treaties and evil Frost Giants does a great job of portraying a world that believably operates on a much grander scale than on our. Yes, the scenes are a little cheesy, but they need to be to accurately sell the gravitas inherent in a world of fables. Look at the way these characters talk at each other in a forceful clip (for instance, in the vault scene between Odin and Loki) — it’s Marvel comics via Hamlet with Lord of the Rings-style action thrown in.
Those Asgard scenes also set up the great contrast which drives the center of the film, the hour or so in which Thor finds himself exiled to Earth. I imagine most viewers will have the most fun here, and rightfully so. These Earthbound scenes are terrific, full of fish-out-of-water comedy and surprisingly grounded action (at least until Thor’s Asgardian buddies show up at the end). I think the muddy battle between a depowered Thor and a SHIELD guard may be the most unglamorous fight scene in blockbuster superhero film history, at least until Thor lands the last blow.
A veteran of Shakespeare, director Kenneth Branagh knows how to elicit great performances from his actors. In fact, this movie is exceptionally well-cast; with almost no exceptions, I felt everyone did a tremendous job playing their character. I especially want to single out Natalie Portman, who I think gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Thor’s Earthbound love interest Jane Foster. She’s got an amazing scene under the stars with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) where you can see her run through a gamut of emotions, from the natural skepticism of the scientist to the fact that someone she perceives as incredibly attractive is hitting on her to the realization that oh my god mythology is real. I also loved Kat Dennings (of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), who played Jane’s assistant Darcy; her casual comedy anchors the contrast between Earth and Asgard.
I continue to be impressed by the way Marvel builds their shared universe within these movies. All throughout Thor there are major hints at a larger world, from a doctor who knows “the pioneer in Gamma radiation” to a man-shaped machine that “better not be one of Stark’s.” The film also gives us our first glimpse of Clint Barton, the man who will become Hawkeye. I must admit he’s the one piece of casting on which I’m not totally sold; I’ll have to see Jeremy Renner in 2012′s Avengers to see if he really fits into that role.
Overall Thor does exactly what I wanted it to, and better than I expected. It combines the epic adventure befitting the character with a real sense of fun. This movie has none of the ponderous angst that befalls weaker entries into the superhero genre; it is straight-up a badass action-adventure
movie, and one I look forward to seeing again.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more