Thor (2011)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz & Don Payne

Recently, comic books have been developed into feature films at an alarming rate. In years past Batman and Superman were the only major films based on comic books that were able to grab hold of such a large audience. That is until Spider-man splashed onto the scene and Christopher Nolan took over the Batman series, making superhero, comic book movies the trend in Hollywood. And it all culminates in next year’s “The Avengers”, which includes various characters from Marvel Studios films, including the Norse god Thor. What makes this one different is the director, Kenneth Branagh, who is thee Shakespeare guy in the movie world. He has made multiple films based on those famous works and is a thespian at heart. So what does he have to offer the world of superhero action?

Thor is a famous is an actual, hammer-wielding, ancient Norse god worshiped by Germanic peoples, but he was also a character developed by the geniuses (Stan Lee) behind Marvel Comics. In this particular story, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an overly arrogant and aggressive young man on the precipice of replacing his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on the throne of one of the none realms, Asgard. But his day is cut short when the archenemy sneaks in and, instead of a diplomatic approach, Thor tries to incite war. His father banishes him to Earth, another of the realms, where he has no powers. There he meets scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her collegues (Stellan Skarsgard & Kat Dennings). He is hounded by a federal agent (Clark Gregg) and haunted by his younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who soon becomes king in his absence. So Thor must find what it takes to be the man, and the god, it takes to rule Asgard as his father lie on his deathbed, in threat of an enemy from outside, as well as from within.

The other worldly nature of this film sets it apart from most other Earthly comic book films. Much of the action actually takes place somewhere other than Earth, which is strange and fascinating at the same time. The special effects and film design in the film really make the setting beautiful and really work for the story being told. The parts of the film on Earth were also filled with pretty good action scenes. But what was most interesting about the visual aspect of the film was the use of the canted camera angle. This style of camera work is where the lens is tilted so that the plane of view is not even with the reality of the setting. It is often used to heighten tension and suspense, but it is really overused here in my opinion, causing the film to seem off kilter unnecessarily. It is a distraction in that it is noticeable.

The story of the film was fun, although not overly compelling as it has no real consequence. The main plot point is that there is a traitor in Asgard and Thor must regain his power in time to stop him from killing Odin and taking over the throne. Stakes seem high, but you wouldn’t know it from the proceedings of the film, as not much attention seems to be paid to the gravity of the situation, which is remarkable coming from the Shakespearian Branagh. Because of this, however, the comedic relief works really well, especially from Kat Dennings and the lead, Hemsworth.

The cast was pretty good overall, though it had its exceptions. Hemsworth dominated the screen in both time and stature and he delivers what is a convincing performance as Thor with quite a few funny moments as he is getting acquainted to Earth and his lack of powers. What is strange is that no one else really gets much play. Natalie Portman is the second star, but her screen time seems limited. The same can be said for Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings. Even Anthony Hopkins doesn’t get much face time in what is yet another phoned in role from him. By the end of the film it felt really strange that so little time was spent with so many characters, even if the acting was decent all the way through.

The action and story was fun. The actors did a good job and delivered some good comedic relief. The special effects were fun to look at and there were a few quite remarkable shots, albeit fleeting. And yet, the film seems to fail in its direction, which was one of the few areas I felt good about going in, even in Branagh with an action comic book hero seemed like a strange fit. It is a film that is good enough to please most, especially on a surface level as I was when I exited the theater, but upon a little bit of thought on the film, it was somewhat of a letdown. But I plan on remembering the fun I did have with the film as opposed to dwelling on the negatives I thought about afterwards, though they will not be forgotten.

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