Thor (2011)

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.

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Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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 (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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?

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

(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.

Thor (2011)

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 (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Thor (2011)

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.

Tag: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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  • StevePotter

    You’re not alone in not giving a shit about “racebending”! It always struck me as odd that people are still hung up on that when the REAL problem is that the actors were just kind of shitty.

    • I think part of the reason for the ‘racebending’ controversy was that it’s a Hollywood tradition to crowbar white protagonists into stories that aren’t about white people. It also didn’t make any sense in the movie itself as the protagonists were white while the rest of their tribe were Inuit. Funnily enough during production Shyamalan claimed that he was casting based purely on ability instead of appearance, and the fact that he kept a straight face is probably enough evidence to have him sectioned.

      • StevePotter

        I just find it interesting that the Indian Shyamalan cast mostly Indian actors as the villains. Makes you wonder.

  • Monophylos

    I have to agree with my partner’s comment after we watched the movie: if the film had ditched all the tedious “war in heaven” stuff and been just Thor on Earth getting into one scrape after another, it would have been more interesting. Somewhat.

    Really I only remember two things well about this movie: Stellan Skarsgard (I like to see him in anything) and how Branagh tries vainly to artsy up the silly material with Dutch angles on every shot. Seriously, he tilts his camera more than Battlefield Earth does.

    • Muthsarah

      I think it was a pretty ballsy move for Branagh to use those Dutch angles after Ang Lee crashed and burned in his attempt to to inject comic book style into Hulk.

      In retrospect, it would have been a much more interesting movie had they just gotten rid of Kat Denning’s character and had her play Jane. As an actually funny love interest (and with a figure one might think a medieval-type like Thor would prefer). So Jane has some personality, other than being so obviously more intelligent than her scientist boss (as a side benefit, Skarsgard can actually do something, like be the brains behind the operation, instead of the sad old man playing second fiddle to a twenty-something who is obviously the leader of this dysfunctional research team). This Jane was just so unnecessary.

  • Cristiona

    …of course his name is Odinson. That’s how patronyms work.

    It was weird, though, seeing him supposedly falling in love with Jane with Sif back home. Especially since, in the actual mythology, Thor’s married to Sif.

    Still, though, I thought this movie was a lot of fun, and that’s not just from lowered expectations.

    • This part is actually based on a comic timeline. Thor was exiled to Earth, fell in love with Jane, brought her home to marry him…then her memories got wiped, she was returned to Earth, and he hooked up with Sif.

      • Muthsarah

        Surely, if these gods inspired Norse myth, he would already have been married to Sif. Which means he was cheating on her with Jane, so….did Sif wipe Jane’s memories? Is Thor a player? Is Sif having a revenge affair with Heimdall? Even though he is only depicted as being black in the film, does she still have the option to go back? And does a Thor/Jane coupling run the same risks as a Superman/Lois one? Or have I already excreted too many brain cells out of my nose?

        If we’re following Norse myth, I’m still waiting for the scene where Loki dresses Thor up in drag and tries to pass him of as Freyja in order to regain the stolen Mjolnir. Old polytheism sure knew good lowbrow situation comedy. Hollywood could learn a thing or two.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Personally, I thought that this film was overall pretty good. Which is why I ultimately decided not to review it, last year…

  • I like Thor, he is a silly character. The fact that he fit as well as he did and that the fish out of water humor worked is shocking.

    If I had to guess how Jane was able to predict Thor showing up, I would imagine it is similar to why the mythology book had Thor and Loki already in their respective roles as god of storms and Lies respectively even though they were babies when the war happened. Time and space are warped through the Bifrost, allowing people on Earth to gain telepathic or scientific insights into Asgard. Norse mythology reads like a brick to the face as is, saying that it was distorted by wormhole logic is a good way to hand wave it away.

    Also, New Mexico, land of UFO sightings, maybe one of the other realms has UFOs and passed through New Mexico.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    “Why doesn’t he also grow to the same height as a Frost Giant?”
    Traditionally the frost giants left the runt/dwarf that Odin found “exposed” because he was so small – that’s what allows him to pass height wise. “Exposing” deformed children was pretty common in ye old days

    As for everything else about Loki – the over thought over complicated plans and the fact that no matter how much he betrays them they always forgive him because he is very smart – those are also consistent with the myths

    My only real problem with this film is the horses. Traditionally they did not have riding horses in the north land, they did have carts and the gods rode in goat drawn carts. They got this right in the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated Avengers series, where it looks awesome, but here they stick them on horses.

    Thor in particular not only had a goat drawn cart but super magical goats that had Wolverines healing factor so he could cook and eat them and they just got better – for some reason their bones didn’t heal that way but that’s another story entirely to itself.

    Goats

    • Gallen_Dugall

      Oh, and Jane Fosters crying had nothing whatsoever to do with his worthiness, it was just incidental to his moment of “self-sacrifice” and if I’m misreading that I’ll eat my hat.

      That brings up what really impresses me about this film Portman didn’t destroy it – mediocre actress at best and film wrecking disaster the rest of the time. They kept her involvement minimized to romantic interest and exposition device – about all she’s good for. Every time I see her on the screen her face has that same “reciting her lines” look on it – when she stops talking she remembers how to emote… narrowly – then she starts talking and it’s back to blank face.

      • Monophylos

        Someone says the obvious thing: Natalie Portman is not a good actress. How many years has she been acting now? She comes across as just as feckless and immature as when she first started!

        • Gallen_Dugall

          she’s not the worst actress I’ve seen, but good editors separate her dialog from her emoted responses because the shift is disturbing

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            Aw, come on – she is not that bad as you want to make her. I think, she does a pretty decent job.

          • Monophylos

            That’s just the thing: Portman is, at best, OK. She’s hardly the worst actress out there but neither has she ever delivered, at least in anything I’ve seen from her, a better than adequate performance. I’ll reiterate also that she’s never lost the child-actress vibe she gave off in movies like Leon and Heat.

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            I have to admit, I liked her in Episode II, where she could be sexy and kick-ass. Episode III not so much, but the actrice has to work with that, what is given to him.

        • Julius Benedict

          Some might disagree with you…..

          • Fantasy Mission Force

            Some might piss in their hat and wear it to church on Sunday, but that don’t mean anything, either.

        • Toby Clark

          Black Swan. Heat. Leon: The Professional.

          • Fantasy Mission Force

            O…kay…?
            She was in those movies… and…?
            Are you trying to say something with these movie titles?
            She was not a central character in Heat, the movie certainly didn’t hinge on her performance.
            Black Swan was just awful, terrible, boring, her performance in that was spectacularly mediocre and kind of totally unbelievable; I was promised psycho-sexuality and they couldn’t even deliver that properly.
            I’ll give you Leon, that movie was pretty good.
            But still… what?

    • William

      I actually have a pet theory re: Loki’s status as a Frost Giant. In the comics (as well as the original myths, oddly enough), Thor is the son of Odin and Jord (the Earth/Gaia/Mother Nature). Frigga is Thor’s adoptive mother as well as Odin’s queen. Now, we know that Laufey, King of the Frost Giants, is Loki’s dad. What if Frigga is Loki’s biological mom? What if that’s another reason Odin declared war on the Frost Giants, to punish Laufey for “cooing his bird?” Maybe that’s why Odin decided to raise Loki as his own child. Because he reminds him of his mother. In the second movie, they show that Frigga taught Loki magic. So, it’s possible. It’s not canon in the comics, but whatevs.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Man, we just have to agree to disagree where this movie is concerned. I think when it comes to a film when a person likes it they are more forgiving of it’s flaws. I just found the movie to be a lot of fun and I liked the performances. It’s like me thinking Prometheus was a steaming pile of shit while Ridley Scott fans would decry that I “just don’t get it”.

    I can’t deny that there were I guess what we can call “Avengerisms” in the movie, from the post credit scene to the near-pointless Hawkeye cameo. I still think the movie works far better than, say, Iron Man 2, which is pretty much pointless from start to finish. And I loved Darcy. As comic reliefs go she was funny without being annoying, unlike Ryan Reynolds in Blade III.

    • You know, if they had removed Coulson, and had Hawkeye do all of that field work, maybe even have him help Thor and the Warriors fight the Destroyer, he would have been a lot more well liked and his mind washing in “Avengers” would have seemed more dire. Filling the role like Black Widow did in “Iron Man 2”.

  • God I was glad when this film ended. And by the way, if you think THAT looks like a giant gay pride flag, have you seen the rainbow bridge from the Thor I grew up on?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9UgWyGB3vc

  • Laubesoyeuse

    Great recap! I only saw a few minutes of this movie, but I definitely got that hastily-cobbled-together vibe, too.
    Also, in The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu is the visiting alien, and Gort is the deadly robot. But you’re referring the 2008 version, I can definitely see how you’d make that mistake, since even at his best, Keanu Reeves is indistinguishable from a robot.

  • William

    I liked Thor, though I admit having two glowing blue cubes in one movie was a bit confusing. Heck, for a while, I just assumed the Cosmic Cube and the Frost Giant Cube were one and the same. It took me…longer than I care to admit to figure that one out.