Despite its best attempts to feel grand and epic, 2011’s Thor never amounts to much more than a light apéritif before the main course that was The Avengers. It’s a pleasant enough way to spend two hours, but I doubt anyone involved was under the delusion that they were making a film for the ages.
However, given the original comic book’s premise of ancient Norse gods who are really extra-dimensional costumed superheroes who speak in pseudo-archaic English, it’s a minor miracle that this movie turned out watchable at all. Surely, a lot of credit must go to director Kenneth Branagh, who seemed like an out-of-left-field choice at the time due to a career full of high-pedigree Shakespeare adaptations. But at least on the surface, plenty of elements of Thor’s mythos feel somewhat Shakespearean. Thor is not exactly the melancholy Dane, but if Shakespeare had had the wherewithal to include giant robots and inter-dimensional portals and storm-generating mystical hammers in his plays, it just might have looked something like this movie.
As the story begins, a voiceover informs us that all the old Norse myths are true. The so-called Norse “gods” are really sufficiently advanced beings that exist in a separate dimension known as Asgard, where science and magic are one and the same.
Back in the year 965 AD, a race known as the Frost Giants came to Earth, intending to conquer the place on their way to taking over all Nine Realms of existence. But the Asgardians, led by their king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) drove them back, along the way taking possession of the “Casket”, the power source of the Frost Giants. This epic battle was observed by humans, and would become the basis for legends that would be passed down for centuries.
Hundreds of years later, Odin is preparing to abdicate the throne and make his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) the new king, much to the envy of Thor’s younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Uh… seeing as how Thor is older, Loki sort of had to know this was coming all along, right? Also in this scene, it’s revealed that Thor actually has a last name: Odinson. His name is Thor Odinson. This is sort of like finding out Batman’s name is actually Batman Jenkins or something.
Odin has also given Thor the gift of his powerful hammer Mjolnir. It’s funny hearing “Mjolnir” pronounced out loud; when I was reading comics as a kid I thought it was one of those words like “Mxyzptlk” that no one was ever expected to actually say.
But on the day of Thor’s coronation, several Frost Giants break through Asgard’s defenses in an attempt to steal back the Casket. They’re easily defeated by a giant Klaatu-like robot called the Destroyer that shoots big face lasers, but Thor is enraged and wants vengeance anyway.
Unbeknownst to Odin, Thor gathers up Loki and a band of merry men to travel to the land of the Frost Giants for a little payback. To get there, they must ride across a lengthy ice bridge that gleams with all the colors of the rainbow. This bridge is called Bifrost, and I vaguely remember it from the comics. No surprise, they made it look a lot less like a giant gay pride flag in this movie.
At the edge of the bridge stands an observatory-like structure guarded by Heimdall (Idris Elba), who creates a portal to send Thor and friends to the world of the Frost Giants. Once they arrive, a battle breaks out, and soon the Asgardians are vastly outnumbered and facing certain doom.
That’s when Odin shows up to put a stop to things. He’s livid that Thor nearly started a war with the giants, and to teach him some humility, he strips him of his powers and sends him to Earth. What’s more, he takes away Thor’s hammer and casts a spell on it, saying that only when Thor proves himself “worthy” again will he be able to lift it, and tosses it after him through the portal to Earth.
Thor lands in New Mexico, of all places, and is immediately hit by a truck driven by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She’s part of a scientific team that includes Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their intern Darcy (Kat Dennings). They’ve been investigating mysterious auroras in the area, which I suppose we’re to assume are people crossing over from Asgard, except Jane seems to be under the impression that these auroras happen on a regular basis. She’s even able to predict Thor’s appearance ahead of time, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
They take Thor to a hospital, but he soon breaks out and Jane hits him with her truck again. They obligingly take him home like a puppy they accidentally ran over, even though he’s blathering about ancient Norse myths like they’re things that actually happened to him. But as Darcy helpfully notes, he’s “pretty cut,” so he gets a pass on being violent and possibly delusional.
Mjolnir is then discovered in a crater, which brings SHIELD to town, along with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) from the Iron Man movies, giving us a repeat of the Iron Man 2 post-credits scene, plus rednecks!
Thor goes to retrieve his hammer from the outpost that SHIELD has built around it. He fights his way through various bulky and beefy SHIELD agents, only to discover that he can no longer lift Mjolnir.
This sequence also contains an entirely pointless cameo by Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton, better known in the comics as Hawkeye. He seriously does nothing here: he sits in a cherry picker and readies an arrow to take down Thor, doesn’t shoot the arrow, and then is never seen or mentioned again. At the very least, he could have fired a trick arrow to stun or otherwise incapacitate Thor, but nope. Hawkeye is completely useless here, giving me reason to wonder if he was added to the movie pretty late in the game.
Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki has learned the truth about his past: he’s actually the adopted child of Frost Giants. When Odin defeated the giants centuries ago, he came across an abandoned baby on their homeworld, and took him back to Asgard and turned him human with his magic. Loki figures this all out when he touches the Casket and his skin turns blue and his eyes turn red, just like a Frost Giant. Why doesn’t he also grow to the same height as a Frost Giant?
At the exact same moment this all comes out, Odin falls into something called “Odinsleep”. This appears to be some sort of periodic coma that Odin falls into, but it usually happens with some forewarning. I think. It’s not explained very well. But taken together with Thor’s exile, Loki sees this as a prime opportunity to usurp the throne.
Back on Earth, Thor gets freed from SHIELD custody in the dumbest way possible, by Dr. Selvig pretending he’s just his crazy, roided-up coworker. Yes, I realize Agent Coulson is only letting Thor go so he can keep an eye on him, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dopey plan. Though at least this gives us a scene of Thor in a bar, chugging beer. Is this something he does a lot in the comics? Because when Eric Allan Kramer played Thor, we got a scene just like this.
(While we’re on the subject, there’s been some speculation that Kramer has a cameo somewhere in this film. I’m 99.9999% sure he’s not in the movie, but I’d love to be proven wrong.)
In order to make sure Thor never returns from exile, Loki sends the Destroyer down to Earth to obliterate everything in sight. Thor pleads with Loki through the robot, offering to sacrifice himself to save all the innocent townspeople. Loki takes him up on the offer, but instead of incinerating Thor with the face laser, the Destroyer simply bitch-slaps him to death.
Jane cries over his body, which evidently proves Thor is “worthy” again, and Mjolnir flies to him and Thor is resurrected and he quickly saves the day. In all fairness, it’s a pretty rousing, goosebump-inducing moment, if just a tad bit overdone. I think the only thing missing here is the sound of an angelic choir.
Thor then returns to Asgard to take down Loki, who’s allowed Frost Giants to enter Asgard to kill the sleeping Odin. Except, it turns out Loki really did it so he could double-cross the giants, and use Bifrost to destroy their homeworld, in order to… prove to Odin that he’s worthy of being king? Frankly, this just seems like a really roundabout way of becoming king.
Thor stops him by destroying Bifrost with his hammer, even though it means Thor will never be able to return to Earth and see his beloved Jane again. But given we already know Thor is going to turn up again in The Avengers, this has no meaning whatsoever. Also, Loki apparently “dies” at the end of the movie, but since we all know he’s the villain in The Avengers, this too is pretty meaningless.
And then there’s the obligatory post-credits scene, which for once actually contains important info. In a setup for The Avengers, Dr. Selvig is working for SHIELD now, and he meets Nick Fury, who shows him the Tesseract last seen in Captain America: The First Avenger. The cube is an Asgardian relic, but it should be noted that it’s totally different from the Casket power source belonging to the Frost Giants. For some reason, the Marvel movie franchise has given us two different Asgardian glowing blue cubes of immense power. It’s a bit confusing, to say the least.
Oh, and we get a brief glimpse of Loki, who’s appearing as a hologram… or some kind of psychic projection, or something. Regardless, this means he was “dead” for all of ten minutes. The end.
The movie really tries to sell us on the love affair between Thor and Jane Foster, but I have to assume most of their romance ended up on the cutting room floor. All we’re left with is one fireside chat where Thor describes the Nine Realms to her and she gets misty-eyed.
Presumably, one half of the audience is supposed to be swooning at Hemsworth’s pecs, and the other is supposed to be swooning at Natalie Portman being a scientist and paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke. I think I’m supposed to be in the latter group, but Portman has never done it for me. Is that why I don’t buy their alleged romance? Or did the movie just totally pull that out of its ass?
Unfortunately, the whole story hinges on their true love. She cries over him, making him worthy. Loki suggests he might pay Jane a visit, as a way of goading Thor into the final fight. And we’re supposed to get the sads that Thor will never see Jane again. But how long did they even know each other? A couple of days, a week at the most?
Also not helping is the presence of Sif (Jaimie Alexander), one of Thor’s merry men people, who’s significantly hotter than Jane Foster. I have no idea why Thor is so smitten with Jane when he has this goddess (by which I mean, an actual goddess) waiting for him back home.
A lot of people found Kat Dennings as Darcy to be annoying, and I’m usually 100% against the concept of comic relief characters solely on principle, but she didn’t really bother me much. I actually still get a chuckle over how she kept referring to Mjolnir as “Meow-meow”. And I can assure you, my finding her funny has nothing to do with me just boobing about her boobs the whole boob.
Actually, unlike other entries in the Marvel franchise, this is one superhero film where the lighthearted moments are genuinely funny. Like when Thor refers to Agent Coulson as “Son of Coul”. Good stuff.
But overall, the world of this movie seems kind of hastily thrown together and vaguely defined. I kept wondering what Asgardians actually do when they’re not on camera. Do they have jobs? Kids they need to take care of? Does Heimdall ever get a bathroom break? I lost track of the moments where characters were simply standing in a room somewhere, just waiting for someone else to enter and move the plot along. When Loki takes the throne, the movie gives the impression that he’s literally sitting on the throne all day, waiting for people to come to him.
Do I need to mention the controversy that erupted when it was announced that Heimdall, a Norse god, would be played by Idris Elba, a black actor? We’re all in agreement that any “protests” over his casting were totally ridiculous, yes? If this were a straight adaptation of The Poetic Edda, perhaps the critics would have a point, but Thor is based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s frankly goofy bastardization of Norse mythology. As far as I’m concerned, when a story takes place in a nonexistent, ill-defined fantasy land, the races of the actors are all fair game. This is also why I couldn’t bring myself to care much about the whole “racebending” thing, though I realize I’m probably in the minority on that one.
So there you have it: Thor! It’s a movie! And it has a sequel! It’s a decent enough film, but I doubt a standalone Thor film not tied into the interlocking Marvel Cinematic Universe would have raked in $400 million worldwide. I recall how in the comics, they would periodically have company-wide crossovers that would force you to buy a whole bunch of titles (including some shitty comic like Quasar) to understand the whole story. Thor should be mostly taken as the movie version of that strategy. And I suppose this is about as entertaining as a blatant marketing ploy is ever going to get.