A pretty pretty superhero must protect beings in a variety of worlds in Thor, the big gleaming introduction to the 2011 summer movie season.
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) might have been mistaken for a god by the humans of medieval Scandinavian Earth but in reality he is a mighty warrior and the ruler of Asgard and the nine realms. His son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is poised to succeed him on the throne but just at the moment that his ascension is about to be announced, Frost Giants, old enemies of Asgard, show up to steal a magic ice cube (it has another name but it’s going to be a long summer with a lot of mythology so I’m pacing myself). Asgard’s giant metallic defender robot prevents them from stealing the cube, but questions about how they got into kingdom and what should happen in retaliation abound. Odin’s all about keeping the peace, but Thor wants battle and glory. So, against his father’s wishes, he takes his buddies and his hammer (a super-heavy weapon that makes him nearly unbeatable) and heads to the Frost Giants’ world and picks a fight, one that he’d likely have lost if Odin didn’t show up to save him. Odin is furious that Thor has brought war upon Asgard and he strips Thor of his powers (but not his six-pack abs and biceps) and banishes him to Earth, where (as you’ll remember from that post-credits scene in Iron Man 2) he also sends the hammer (though neither Thor nor anyone else will be able to use it until someone worthy of the power — i.e. who has learned an important lesson about starting wars just ’cause — holds it). Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, assumes power as Odin falls into a deep sleep and Thor’s friends start to wonder if maybe Loki had more to do with setting these events in motion than it seems.
Meanwhile on Earth, Thor falls from the heavens straight into a science experiment being run by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She’s observing some wacky atmospheric conditions out in the desert and starts to think they may have something to do with theories about a bridge to another world. Thor’s expulsion creates one heck of an amazing light show followed by a dust storm and, wham-o, Jane hits Thor with her car. At first, Jane, her research assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and scientist Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) want to dump him at the hospital and get on with life. But then Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and other government men-in-black from SHIELD show up and take Jane’s research and soon she realizes that Thor might be the only link to her study of wormholes and other worlds. Thus begins a far less exciting part of the movie that involves Thor’s examination of his soul, a Stan Lee cameo and awkward flirting.
Chris Hemsworth is very attractive. If I were on a date with him, I would look intently into his eyes and smile when he talked. I would also nod, particularly if he were shirtless and nodding would make checking out his impressive abs less obvious. Would I be able to remember what we talked about? No, probably not. And thus is the experience of watching Thor. You’re checking out all the pretty things — Hemsworth, the shiny golden Asgard, the pretty dark blue storm clouds over the New Mexico desert, the handsomely craggy face of Stellan Skarsgard, who brings an air of “serious actor” to this business. How lovely, you think as you smile and nod your head (and then, if you’re seeing this in 3-D, quickly try to nod back in whatever position makes the visuals not blurry). Even when you can’t exactly tell who is fighting whom in the fight scenes, you might still enjoy letting them wash over you. But later are you going to remember what made the movie fun? Turn over great moments in your mind? Are you going to recommend it to your friends?
I’m on the fence over whether Thor is a movie worth seeing. It has a lot of sparkle. But it doesn’t have a whole lot else. The entire Jane plot line could be pulled straight out — yeah, yeah, she teaches him how to care. But I’m sure there was a quicker, less credibility-busting way to do that. As it is, the Thor-Jane romance feels very tacked on and made me less invested in the story, not more. Portman starts to go down the road of being a goofy science nerd suddenly in love (or maybe just lust) but the movie doesn’t have the time to really make much of that and gives us only the barest bones of a romance.
Another aspect of the movie that feels more slap-dash and less organic: all the references to other Marvel projects. Even as fun little Easter eggs for those in the know, they started to grow tiresome and create the impression that what I was currently watching was just one big long ad for a future movie.
But back to the sparkle — Hopkins as Odin is a lot of crazy, British Thespian fun. He brings a big big performance to his supporting role and makes the movie feel more epic than it really is. And while Hiddleston’s Loki was missing that It quality, his scenes with Hemsworth helped to give the brother-vs.-brother story some heft. For me, the movie was actually at its best when it focused on these characters in their crazy CGIworld, rather than on the “wacky” but familiar scenes of bringing Thor into ours.
Here’s what I’ll say: if the words “first big movie of the summer” have you excited, then yes, see Thor (in 2-D, matinee price if you can), don’t think too much about it, have a good time. But if this whole blam-wow-ka-boom time of the year holds no interest for you, you can wait for Thor to show up on FX in a few years and you won’t be missing much. C+
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (from the comic by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby), Thor is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It opens on Friday, May 6.