Monday, May 9, 2011
Thor Review: A Fable of a Fallen God
I saw Thor this last weekend. Of all of the Marvel superheroes that have made it to the big screen, I know less about Thor than the others. Nevertheless, the Thor movie is a big thunder blast of fun, a superheroic feat for one of Marvel’s less popular characters. Read on for my complete review.
The central plot of Thor is pretty simple. After committing an act of reckless bravado, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth), Norse god of thunder/inter-dimensional super-being, is exiled by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) away from his celestial home of Asgard to Earth, where he is stripped of his powers and has to learn the value of humility and selflessness. While much more than that happens in the movie--I'll let you see that for yourself--what makes this main plot arc worthy of note in the context of most superheroes movie is that it takes the now-clichéd superhero origin story and turns it on its head. Instead of a normal human learning how to be a noble super-human, Thor is about a super-being from a world of super-beings learning how to be a noble yet vulnerable human being. That shift in narrative focus, along with the incorporation of many details from the character's unique comic book history, sets Thor apart from most other superhero movies.
When Stan Lee, Larry Leiber and Jack Kirby created Marvel Comics' version of Thor back in 1962, they fused together ancient Norse mythology with modern fantasy and sci-fi pulp to build a more superhero-compatible rendition of the Viking god pantheon. (After Kirby left Marvel, he would go on to create similar characters and stories for DC Comics under the New Gods and Fourth World titles.) Thus, watching the Thor movie is a lot like watching a mash-up of Lord of the Rings with a Flash Gordon serial--that by itself is a treat for anyone who appreciates a pulp-rooted approach to action-adventure fantasy cinema.
Clearly, Marvel spared no expense in putting Thor together. The script is solid, both in terms of getting viewers up to speed in Thor lore and planting the seeds for The Avengers, the Marvel mega-crossover film that is scheduled for next summer. There isn't a false note among any of the cast: Hemsworth does a great job as a disenfranchised-god-turned-superhero, and he's surrounded by list of impressive actors that includes Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, and Idris Elba. Kenneth Branagh's direction nimbly balances the mythic melodrama, whimsical fantasy, intense action and goofy humor that make Thor such an outstanding superhero movie. (Apparently, Branagh's experience with both Shakespeare and fantasy films such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has really paid off.) Even though Kirby left Marvel for DC because he felt that he lacked creative control over his work, Branagh and company's portrayal of Kirby's Asgard and its inhabitants will leave Marvel fans satisfied.
In comparison to other superhero movies, Thor shares many themes with Iron Man, themes such as redemption, betrayal and the folly of hubris. If Thor has any problem as a movie, it is that its title character's exile to Earth as a moral lesson seems rather brief and tepid in comparison to Tony Stark's sudden, harsh crash course in humility in the beginning of Iron Man. One of the things that I enjoyed about Iron Man 2 is how it continued the story of Stark's struggle to cope with the dark legacy he inherited and the decisions he made in the previous film; hopefully, future cinematic adventures of Thor will likewise expand upon what he had learned about himself and the nature of power during his time on Earth.
Thor is a great superhero movie, the perfect way to kick off this year's summer movie season. If Marvel can keep up this level of quality with the upcoming X-Men prequel and Captain America (one of Kirby's other popular co-creations), we'll have a mighty Marvel summer on our hands.