Thor (2011)

thor

“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”

The Scoop: 2011 PG-13, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and Rene Russo.

Tagline: Two worlds. One hero.

Summary Capsule: A god becomes less than godly, and has to reclaim his godliness. And no, it’s not by taking a bath. (What do you mean, you don’t get it? It’s referential humor. Come on, the famous quote? ‘Cleanliness is next to…?’ Oh, forget it.)

Deneb’s rating: Four out of five mighty wallops with a flying hammer.

Deneb’s review: Ever since the dawn of movie-making, people have been trying to make epics. It is a quality much desired by Hollywood – a good epic can cost millions, but it can also make millions, and ‘epic’ looks darn good on the promotional material.

The definition of just what an epic movie is, though, has changed quite a bit since the early days. It used to be one with lots and lots of people involved, or “a cast of thousands”, but now that you can get a cast of thousands through a little computer work, that’s not quite so impressive anymore. Then, for a while, it was “a movie that we spent an obscene amount of money on”, which… hasn’t really changed, but given the zillion-dollar budgets routinely handed out to summer blockbusters, that one’s up for debate. Not too long ago, it passed through a phase of being something like “a movie that has great big armies battling it out, ‘cause the Lord of the Rings flicks had those, and they made whopping big piles of money, so if we imitate them, ours will, too! Genius!” We seem to have passed by that one, so it’s somewhat in limbo at the moment.

So what will be the ultimate resolution of this? It’s difficult to say. In the meantime, though, wannabe epic-makers could do worse than to take a few notes from Thor.

First, a quick refresher for those of you unfamiliar with either the comic or ancient Norse mythology. The basic idea is that there are various different interdimensional realms surrounding (and including) Earth and its dominions – to be precise, there are nine, but let’s concern ourselves with just three for the moment. One is Earth itself, commonly referred to as Midgard, the second is Asgard, home of the gods, and the third is Jotunheim, home of the Jotuns, or Frost Giants, enemies of both gods and humans. The ruler of Asgard is the head god Odin, who has two sons, Thor, god of thunder and wielder of the sacred hammer Mjolnir, and Loki, god of mischief. In the comics, Loki is basically the god of evil, and is his brother’s arch-enemy.

The prelude to the film takes place (briefly) in ancient Scandinavia, where the Jotuns are invading, with plans to plunge the planet into endless winter. The gods have other plans, though, and an epic war breaks out between the two. This eventually climaxes in Jotunheim, where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) takes the Casket of Ancient Winters, source of the Jotuns’ power, and makes a truce with Laufey (Colm Feore), their leader. The terms, basically, are as follows – you leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. Pretty standard, really.

Cut to a few centuries later. All is well in Asgard – the truce has held for all these years, and Odin is thinking of stepping down as king. As his successor, he’s chosen Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Probably a good choice, too – Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is mighty clever and all, but he seems a tad sneaky.

Thor is a nice fella overall, but a bit on the arrogant and headstrong side – understandable really, when you’re basically the prince of the gods. In any case, though, he’s about to be crowned the new king when the ceremony is interrupted by some Frost Giants attempting to steal back the Casket. Godly security takes care of them in time, but it was awfully close.

Thor is all for summoning up the armies of Asgard and showing those damn Jotuns what for, but Odin says no – there’s no evidence that Laufey was behind the attempted heist, and the truce is more important to both realms. Thor is not happy with this, but he’s not the king yet, so he’s got to abide by his father’s wishes.

Officially, that is. Unofficially, he’s got a select group of pals that he’s gone on many an adventure with, so they, he and Loki take a quick jaunt over to Jotunheim to get some answers.

Naturally, given that they’re basically charging in without a plan besides “let’s kick some ass”, things go less than ideally. Odin has to pull their fat from the fire, and all that ass-kicking they did has sufficiently ticked off Laufey that he calls off the truce. Once again, the two realms are at war.

As you may imagine, Odin is more than somewhat annoyed at his son, and the two have an epic fight that ends with Thor losing his temper for realsies and calling the old man out. This was not a good idea – Odin strips Thor of both Mjolnir and his powers, and banishes him to Earth.

More specifically, he banishes him to New Mexico, where he happens to run across (or the other way around) comely astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has been studying various phenomena in the sky that, unbeknownst to her, are tied in to Asgard somehow. (How precisely this is the case is never really explained, so I won’t even try.) Naturally, she and her colleagues don’t really believe him when he tells them who he is, but hey, he can prove it easily enough – seems Mjolnir was sent right after him, so all he has to do is get his hands on it and all will be well again. Flash-bang-boom time.

There’s a catch, though. See, before Odin sent the hammer after him, he put an enchantment on the thing so that no one could lift it unless “he be worthy” – and at the moment, poor vain, arrogant, reckless Thor is far from worthy enough. Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki has plans, and he’s not too keen on his brother making his way back home so he can spoil them.

Will Thor ever get his hammer back? Will he and the lovely Dr. Foster ever quit making cow-eyes at one another and get down to business?  And what will that rascally Loki do next? Hey, I’m not tellin’ ya. Watch the movie.

So – epics. Thor is only a medium-sized epic compared to some, but an epic it is. It may be (sort of) a superhero movie, which falls into its own category, but this film is unmistakably classified under E rather than S, if you get my drift (that drift being that I’m getting tired of writing the word “epic”, and am trying to be clever).

Going by our opening list of definitions, it’s not hard to figure out what makes Thor an… um, E-word. (No, not ‘Estrangelo’.) Cast of thousands? Check, although you don’t see much of them. Wildly expensive? That’d be a yes. Great big armies battling it out? Right in the opening scene. Basically, this movie just feels big, a thing accentuated by the fact that it also knows when to feel small.

This is something that a lot of movies like this forget to add – the small stuff, the quiet moments, the myriad points during any story where ordinary life (however the term applies under the circumstances) intrudes. Sure, we come for the big stuff, but without such smaller moments, it just blurs into itself, becoming a confusing mash-up of things going boom. Movies need to take a break every now and then, if for no other reason than the contrast making the big scenes seem bigger.

And it’s a good thing that this particular movie pays attention to such things, too, because the themes of big and little are practically built into this story’s DNA (if movies have DNA – and if so, can you crossbreed them? Hmm…). I mean, it’s about a god who is exiled amongst mortals – both the little and the big have to be of equal importance, or the plot feels imbalanced. Fortunately, they do, and the film hums along like a… humming tightrope walker, I guess. Something that hums along while keeping balanced. Perhaps a hummingbird with a book on its head? I’m moving on now.

So big/small, epic/normal, hummingbirds – enough of all that. What about Asgard, I hear you asking? After all, that’s the main hook of the film – how do Asgard and the Asgardians look? I am happy to say that they look awesome – they more than do justice to both the comic and the mythology. Asgard is a towering space-island city with architecture somewhere in between Norse mythology and a medieval pipe-organ, and is in general thoroughly nifty. I even recognized several bits and pieces of it taken directly from the comics, and believe me, that’s pretty rare. Even the most faithful of comic book adaptations will play a little fast and loose with the actual physical details, but not this one, boys and girls.

As for the Asgardians, they’re good, too. Hemsworth makes for an excellent Thor – he’s believably flawed while still remaining a thoroughly nice guy. Basically, he’s a hero from the start, but as he goes through the events of the film, he becomes a better and wiser hero, and you root for him the whole way. Anthony Hopkins is, well, Anthony freakin’ Hopkins, so of course he nails it as Odin – I personally have always heard a bit more of a booming voice in my head when I read the character, but that’s not Hopkins’ fault, and it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of his performance one whit.

So what about the villain, then? The villain was actually quite interesting. Tom Hiddleston plays Loki as someone you’re really not sure whether to sympathize with or not. His villainy is not so much clear-cut evil as screwed-up priorities and some serious family issues – much, much more ambiguous than in the comic, where for most of its run he’s been more of a mwoo-ha-ha-ha-I-shall-conquer-the-WORLD! type. He starts out the movie fighting at Thor’s side, and even at his most hissable, it’s made pretty clear that he genuinely loves his brother, even while plotting against him, and that his brother loves him – and, for that matter, that Odin loves both of them, no matter how sternly he treats them. It may be a very dysfunctional family, but it’s still a family for all that.

Which leaves the supporting cast. First and foremost would be Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, Thor’s merry band. The latter are one of the few details of the comic version that have no basis in mythology whatsoever, and probably could have been eliminated had the director chosen to go a more traditional route. Personally, though, I’m glad he didn’t, since they’re great characters, and a lot of fun here. They all give good performances, but none (except possibly Ray Stevenson as Volstagg) really stand out in any particular; they just work well as a team. Earth-side, Natalie Portman is lovely as always as Jane Foster, and while her portrayal of the in-over-her-head character is nothing revelatory, she at least comes off as a competent, charming woman who you can understand Thor having a crush on. Kat Dennings is… okay as her helper Darcy (more about that in a moment), and Stellan Skarsgard does a good enough job as her friend and mentor Dr. Selvig. They’re all good.

There are a few minor flaws that should be mentioned. The main one for me was the character of Darcy, whose role seems to mainly be missing the point at every opportunity. To be fair, she grows on you as you see more of her, and the film knows when and when not to trot her out, but there are some scenes near the beginning where she’s just kind of annoying. Additionally, there’s Hogun the Grim, played by Japanese actor Tadanubo Asano, whose lines are colored with his native accent. I’m not blaming him for that, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with his portrayal of the character, but this was a detail that baffled me. An Asgardian with a Japanese accent? Why does an Asgardian have a Japanese accent? That’s… just kind of weird.

Also, the film is annoyingly coy as to whether or not the Asgardians are or aren’t actual gods. I can understand why they did this – don’t want to rile up the Bible-thumpers and all that – but honestly, people, come on. They’re gods. They’re incredibly powerful, immortal beings who live in an otherworldly kingdom, wield incredible powers, and are worshipped by humanity on whose behalf they intervene – what else would you call them? It’s an adaptation of the comic, where they repeatedly refer to themselves as such, and that’s an adaptation of Norse mythology, where they are undisputedly that. They’re gods! Stop dancing around the issue and just call them that!

Anyway. Those aside, I have no complaints whatsoever with Thor. It succeeds as an adaptation, the plot is gripping, the visuals are terrific, the characters are likable, it’s very funny at times, and it conveys an impression of otherworldly majesty that the more standard scenes actually compliment, rather than distract from. Sure, like everyone else I’m eagerly awaiting the Avengers movie that all these others are leading up to, but this one stands perfectly well on its own. I doubt you’ll regret seeing it.

(And hey, if you do think this fails as an epic, well… you can always watch Spartacus again, right? That’s pretty good, too.)

Drew’s rating: Better than Iron Man 2? Aye, verily. But better than Iron Man? I SAY THEE NAY!

Drew’s review: Hale and well met, fellow travelers! Though I know not thy reasons for sojourning to this place, thy curiosity will not go unrewarded. I, Drew son of Marc, shall guide thee on a quest from the grandest hallways of Asgard to the tiniest villages of Midgard and everywhere in between… and know this, the Marcson doth not do things by half. Ere night falls we shall repose by the hearth, toasting our victories and recounting valiant deeds long into the night.

And ho, what marvels await thine eyes, courtesy of fabled storyteller Branagh the Bold! In ages to come, bards shall tell of the headstrong Thor, who defied his father’s wishes and led the Warriors Three and his brother Loki to attack the world of the frost giants, breaking an ancient truce. For his arrogance in reigniting war, wise Odin banished his son to Midgard, which the mortals call Earth, decreeing that only when Thor proved himself worthy could he reclaim his mighty hammer Mjolnir and return. But soon after, the All-Father fell into a sleep from which none could wake him, leaving the wily Loki to rule Asgard. When the trickster’s actions threatened to hasten war with the frost giants, Thor’s friends searched for their comrade, who for his part had been taken in by a mortal astronomer and was learning what it meant to feel human. But when Loki learned of this betrayal and sent the relentless Destroyer to slay his brother… ah, but there we must let the warrior poets conclude the tale in their own way, many moons hence.

When ’twas over, mine comrade and I locked gazes and did voice the same thought: that yon movie was as good as one might reasonably expect. Thor hath always been perhaps most difficult of the Marvel superheroes to contemplate bringing to film. The subject matter be so melodramatic, so grandiose, that easily could it have lapsed into parody in translation from sequential multicolored scrolls to the mystical screen. But while Thor is indeed unafraid to poke fun at its concept at times, yet does it successfully convey the import of the deadly threats and treat its subject matter with just enough gravitas to be entertaining without lapsing into self-mockery. Indeed, this be not an easy line to tread.

The mortal players portraying the Aesir are generally most agreeable, with lusty praise due to Hemsworth as the Odinson and Tom Hiddleston as vile Loki. ‘Tis worth noting that the latter could with ease have fallen into a simplistic villain role, but the actor hath infused the character with complexity and subtle scheming worthy of the trickster himself. Of particular note to this chronicler be the maiden Kat Dennings as Dr. Foster’s assistant, who is both comely of form and sharp of tongue, possessed of enow wit to shame the most mirthful jester in the nine worlds. Though the ways of the gods are not for us to fathom, ’tis hard to shake the belief that Thor did become entranced by the wrong female.

Let it not be said that Thor hath no flaws. Some are minor, like the choice to refer to the mortal plane as “Earth” rather than “Midgard.” Others, such as the rushed pace of Thor’s spiritual awakening and maturation, are mayhaps not quite so easily o’erlooked. But by my troth, they do pale in comparison to the general enjoyment to be had, and woe betide those who choose to pass Thor by unseen. Let the call ring out, from the highest peak to the deepest valley… let the righteous rejoice, let the wicked tremble… that lo, the god of thunder hath arrived! And it is good.

Aye, verily.

“Who here likes sandwiches?” “ALL HERE LIKE SANDWICHES!” “Mjolnir can help you make sandwiches!” “ALL HAIL MJOLNIR!”

Intermission!

  • During production of the movie, some fans protested the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall, saying that it was incongruous to cast a black actor as a Norse god, the ancient Norse not exactly being noted for their dark skin tone. I myself was on the fence about this, but Elba is really pretty good in the role, so it ultimately wasn’t an issue with me. (I note, however, that nobody seems to have protested the casting of Hogun. What, an Asian actor will pass your exacting standards, but not a black one? What’s the story there?)
  • At one point, while talking to Volstagg, Thor uses the term “thought you’d died and gone to Valhalla”. This is a really weird thing for one Asgardian to say to another, since Valhalla is actually a part of Asgard. The only people who die and go to Valhalla are mortals.
  • This is more about the comics than the movie, but what’s the deal with that plate-mail on Thor’s arms? He’s a nigh-invulnerable god of thunder – why the holy heck does he need armor? What was wrong with the classic bare-arms-and-bracers look? It looked badass.
  • The use of the name Donald Blake is a reference to Thor’s original alter ego in the comics.
  • One of the most obviously changed characters is Sif. In the comics, she’s a long-standing off-and-on romantic interest for Thor, as well as a formidable warrior in her own right – in the movie, she’s still a warrior, but her relationship with Thor is clearly a more platonic one. (Of course, in the original myths, she’s Thor’s wife and a fertility goddess, so, yeah. She’s been given a makeover or two.)
  • Yet another example of a movie filmed in 3D that looks just as good if not better in standard 2D. Do you hear me, Hollywood? Cease this folly!
  • The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of THOR!” While this mainly applies to Thor himself, other characters have proven worthy of hefting sacred Mjolnir, including Beta Ray Bill, Captain America, and (during intercompany crossovers) Wonder Woman and Superman. The literal translation of Mjolnir is “That which smashes.” In actual Norse mythology it had some weird sexual metaphor going on, in that it would get larger when you rubbed it. (Yes, really.)
  • A sign in town can be seen reading, “Land of Enchantment — Journey into Mystery”. The former is New Mexico’s state nickname, but “Journey into Mystery” is the giant monster comic that Thor took over as of issue 83; it was eventually retitled “The Mighty Thor.”
  • Not to get nitpicky, but how does Thor know how to use a modern pen?
  • Though not in costume and never referred to as such, “Agent Barton” is Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye, the archer Avenger.
  • Continuing the trend in Marvel movies, after the end credits there’s a final scene. [HERE BE SPOILERS, LAST CHANCE!] Dr. Sevig is called to a meeting with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who shows him a briefcase containing what appears to be the Cosmic Cube. Sevig looks at it, and his reflection reveals that Loki is now influencing him.
Groovy Quotes:

Darcy: I think that was legally your fault.

Odin: Thor Odinson, you have betrayed the express command of your king. Though your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war!

Agent Coulson: Just keep him away from the bars.
Dr. Selvig: I will.
Thor: Where are we going?
Dr. Selvig: To get a drink.

SHIELD agent: Uh, base, we’ve got a Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood.

Thor: My friends, have you forgotten all that we have done together? Fandral, Hogun – who led you into the most glorious of battles?
Hogun: You did.
Thor: And Volstagg, to delicacies so succulent you thought you’d died and gone to Valhalla?
Volstagg: You did.
Thor: Yes! And who proved wrong all who scoffed at the idea that a young maiden could be one of the fiercest warriors this realm has ever known?
Sif: I did!
Thor: True, but I supported you, Sif.

Loki: What am I?
Odin: You’re my son.
Loki: What more than that?

Jane Foster: Do me a favor and don’t be dead.

Thor: How dare you attack the son of Odin!

Dr. Selvig: Anyone who’s ever going to find his way in this world has to start by admitting he doesn’t know where the hell he is.

Thor: I have no plans to die today.
Heimdall: None do.

Sif: I will die a warrior’s death! Stories will be told of this day!
Thor: Live, and tell those stories yourself.

Darcy: I am not dying for six college credits!

Thor: We drank, we fought, he made his ancestors proud!

Jotun guard: Run back home, little princess.

Thor: Hammer… Hammer!
Darcy: Yeah, we can tell you’re hammered.

Thor: Loki, this is madness!
Loki: Is it madness? Is it? Is it?

Agent Coulson: I’m sorry, Miss Foster, but we’re the good guys.

Thor: At least make it a challenge for me!

Jane Foster: I’m so sorry! I swear I’m not doing this on purpose!

Thor: I need a horse!

Darcy: You know, for a crazy homeless person he’s pretty cut.

Thor: You dare threaten me, Thor, with so puny a weapo…? (gets tasered)

Odin: Only one of you can ascend to the throne. But both of you were born to be kings.

Volstagg: Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!

Thor: All the answers you seek will be yours once I reclaim Mjolnir.
Darcy: ‘Meow-meow’? What’s Meow-meow?

Fandral: Complicated fellow, isn’t he?

Jane Foster: So is this how you normally look?
Thor: More or less.
Jane Foster: It’s a good look.

Agent Coulson: Donald – I don’t think you’ve been completely honest with me.

Jane Foster: Look what’s down there! You think you’re just going to walk in, grab our stuff and walk out?
Thor: No. I’m going to fly out.

Clint Barton: You’d better call it, Coulson, ‘cause I’m starting to root for this guy.

Volstagg: What happened – silver tongue turn to lead?

Thor: You’re big. I’ve fought bigger.

Laufey: You’ve come a long way to die, Asgardians.

Odin: Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Iron Man
  • Willow

14 comments

  1. One for Intermission section:
    Australian stuntwoman Ky (or Kylie) Furneaux spent five days rehearsing the scene where Sif jumps from a buidling to spear The Destroyer in the chest. It was worth it, though, because in May 2012 she was awarded the industry’s equivalent of an Oscar – the Taurus World Stunt Award.

    • An interesting tidbit, thank you. She deserved it, too – I remember that stunt, and it was pretty awesome.

  2. I’m just responding to Deneb’s review, because I’m too lazy to read the rest and besides, I’ve only got 10 minutes. So.
    Combining movies’ DNA? Hmm. In that case, I say we mix 6-String Samurai and Bubba Ho-Tep.
    In Norse mythology, Thor is Sif’s husband. Dunno about in the comics.

    • Haven’t seen ‘Six-String Samurai’ yet (although I’ve heard of it), but I have seen Bubba Ho-Tep, and if you crossed that with ANYTHING, you’d get something… well, very strange. Probably one with lots of Elvis songs on the soundtrack.
      As I noted in the Intermission – well, it’s all still there, so I won’t repeat myself; read it when you’ve got the time. Suffice it to say that, no, he’s not her husband in the comics.

    • Not me – I’d say that’s what made the material work. Bringing that Shakespearian outlook to things was likely what made the Thor/Loki/Odin relationship as deep and believable as it was here. Dude can do ‘big and serious’, but he can also do ‘light and funny’, and Thor has both sorts of moments. Branagh knows his stuff, and his absence was felt in the sequel – at least, it was by me; the sequel wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t have that certain something that the original had.

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