Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
2011, PG-13, 114 minutes
In Norse mythology, Asgard is one of nine worlds; it is inhabited by gods, and contains part of a giant tree named Yggdrasil. Also of import is Bifrost - a rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Earth. So how do you translate these peculiar things to film? It's a tall order, even for a Hollywood flick. But Marvel Studios never ceases to prove that anything is possible, with the right cast and director. Rather than coming off as corny and preposterous, Thor contains scenes that are grandiose and moving.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the God of Thunder and son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor defies his father's orders by breaking a truce between their race and beings called the Frost Giants. Angered by his son's arrogance, Odin exiles Thor to Earth, where he lands in New Mexico and meets scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her colleagues. Accompanied by Jane, Thor tries to retrieve his hammer, but fails. Meanwhile, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) collaborates with the Frost Giants, and puts father Odin into an enchanted slumber. Loki then makes plans to keep Thor banished, and proceeds to take over the throne of Asgard. As creatures make their way to Earth and cause destruction, Thor must prove himself worthy to wield his hammer, and make his way back to Asgard to set things right.
The design and tone of the film separates it from other mythology-based efforts that ended up being flops (like Clash of the Titans). But this film is more than just pleasing to comic book and mythology fanatics; it is highly critical of manipulative profit-driven groups. When government organization S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to take Jane Foster's research away, the film makes a point of addressing a real world situation - one in which big corporations try to step on individual rights.
Thor also has the benefit of having a strong female lead in Jane Foster. Said Portman of the role, "What a great opportunity, in a movie that is going to be seen by a lot of people, to have a woman as a scientist. She's an astrophysicist. I got to read all these biographies of female scientists like Rosalind Franklin who discovered the DNA double helix but didn't get credit for it. It is these little things that make girls think it's possible - it doesn't give them a role model of 'oh, I just have to dress cute in movies.'"
If this film has any shortcomings, they lie in its unsteady beginning (was a flashback truly appropriate, rather than simply showing the scenes in sequential order?). However, once we start to get into the swing of things, we enjoy the action, the humor (there's plenty of it!), and a somewhat epic, Shakespearean feel to the whole affair.
Bonus points go to Marvel Studios for a clever decision: In a post-credits scene that features Samuel L. Jackson, we learn information that links the plot of Thor with the upcoming Captain America. The creators plan to integrate their heroes into a shared universe, culminating in the Avengers in 2012. It's a novel idea, but it has to be done right, and offer something of value to the audience. We need to walk away from a film feeling as if we've learned something. Thor certainly provided that feeling, and let's face it: In the midst of bad sequels and rehashed ideas, we needed a progressive fantasy film to captivate us. Thor tried very hard to do that - and it didn't disappoint.