Thor is an interesting choice for Marvel to lead off their summer blockbuster season. In the next few months we’ll also see films about the Green Lantern and Captain America, but the comic book Thor isn’t that well known outside of the geek crowd. So how to get a niche superhero to break into the mainstream?
Well first you recruit J. Michael Straczynski—the man behind the great Babylon 5 TV series—as a writer. Then you have Kenneth Branagh take up the directing helm. He gives equal consideration to the action sequences and sweeping dramatic moments alike.
The film gives us a pretty good Reader’s Digest explanation of Thor’s backstory, but it still could have used a bit more explanation for the more esoteric pieces of the mythology—I can’t imagine trying to figure out who or what Asgard, Laufey, Jotunheim, Mjolnir, and Bifröst are with no prior knowledge. And there’s a crazy light-bridge thingy that apparently connects the Nine Realms, but has to have a gatekeeper’s sword/key to activate it—it’s incredibly elaborate, but we’re just supposed to accept that it exists.
So Thor is the impetuous son of the Norse god Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins—who’s given surprisingly little screen time. He and some friends decide to go kick some Frost Giant butt, since they’re the sworn enemies of Asgard and are constantly seeking to infiltrate that heavenly realm. They take off on a black ops mission, manage to tick off the entire Frost Giant nation, and barely escape. Odin realizes Thor’s not ready to wear the crown, so he banishes him to Earth to learn a lesson in maturity. (Why Earth? I have no idea, other than to serve the film.)
He meets some astrophysicists who are studying the wormhole that brought Thor to Earth—one of whom is Swedish, so he recognizes Thor from his childhood stories, and one of whom is beautiful, so is destined to fall for the buff and handsome fallen god. The romance feels rushed and not quite believable.
The section where Thor is on Earth is handled clumsily. There’s some fish-out-of-water material where he still thinks he’s a god in a high court. At one point he goes to a pet store to buy a horse so he can ride miles out-of-town. But when somebody gives him a ride in a car, it doesn’t seem to faze him or surprise him. So…what exactly does he and doesn’t he know?
Like so many superhero movies, the plot sounds ridiculous to someone not versed in the universe—scheming brothers, secret government agencies, giant killer robots, and a group of friends who seem to serve almost no purpose even though they keep showing up.
The film isn’t bad—this is no Transformers 2. I just wish Branagh had taken a few more risks—with the character or the plight or the action or…anything. (I concede that he may have been hamstrung by strict plotting rules so this story will fit into the upcoming Avengers film.) But there’s not much that’s memorable—or that even made me laugh. The first Iron Man film had no fewer clichés, but it was lively. I laughed and cared and watched him grow as a character. Thor is ice cold—like one of those Frost Giants.