Of all the Marvel Comics characters being brought to the big screen, Thor is the one who seems like he would be the hardest to explain. Yes, he's a Norse god, and as such his stories have been told since time immemorial (mostly to Norsemen), but his home isn't a palace in the clouds, it's a sci-fi city in space, one that connects to Earth via a rainbow. Unsurprisingly, the rainbow is downgraded to a slightly shimmering transit beam in the movie, but everything else about Thor is translated to the big screen pretty effortlessly, insofar as a Shakespearean family drama played out on massive, shiny, golden sets can be called "effortless." But since the science and magic aren't dwelt on as much, it allows the drama to play out unhindered, with plenty of bellowing and backstabbing, and action that hits like a hammer to the face.
The movie starts out with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plummeting to Earth, where he's discovered by scientists (Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and intern Kat Dennings) investigating the astronomical anomalies caused by the bridge. We then flash back to the story of his journey, starting with the tale of how the All-Father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) drove the Frost Giants off of Earth and back to their home realm/planet/dimension. Thor is set to ascend to his father's throne in the picturesque Asgard, but when a Frost Giant incursion interrupts the ceremony, Thor decides to respond with force, taking his taciturn brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his warrior friends to beat some answers out of the Giants. Furious at Thor's headstrong behavior, Odin strips him of his power and mystical hammer and banishes him to Earth, dropping him (and the hammer) in New Mexico. Since this is a Marvel movie, spy agency SHIELD gets involved, another Avenger makes a cameo, and while Thor gets plenty of comedic moments on Earth, things quickly become deadly serious and self-sacrifice-y, especially once Loki's true colors begin to show. (Hint: The colors are blue and green.)
Director Kenneth Branagh certainly knows how to direct royal family dramas, having directed and starred in them before, but he also crafts some visceral 3-D fight scenes, with Thor's hammer (and unconscious Frost Giants) flying in and out of frame. Hardcore Thor fans may take issue with small elements -- Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) is not particularly voluminous, Balder is absent (as are Enchantress, Executioner, Hela, etc.) and Dr. Don Blake is mentioned but never seen -- but the number of elements that are true to the comics is pretty impressive. The Cask of Eternal Winters is a major plot element, and other artifacts are glimpsed in a hall. Plus, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and (post-credits) Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury make cameos, as do Thor creator Stan Lee and writer J. Michael Straczynski. Hemsworth is both noble and dickish as the cocky god, and Hiddleston delivers a subtle performance as the trickster Loki. Portman doesn't have too much to do as the token beautiful scientist, but she adorably plays Jane Foster as a giggly nerd who has a hardcore (and understandable) crush on a major deity.
Much has been made of the changed ethnicity of two Asgardians, but Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) is the least used of the Warriors Three, and Heimdall (Idris Elba) is the most intimidating character in the film, speaking in a deep rumble and striking fear into everyone who wants to use the rainbow bridge he controls. Basically, he steals the entire movie. And considering that most comic book characters created before 1970 are lily-white, any time these movies can inject a bit of diversity into their casts is a good thing for everyone. ...Although if Elba still wants to play the Black Panther, let him.
Why does this hammer-headed hero feel the need to yell out his name so often? Watch our vloggers take on Thor:
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