Thor (2011): Kenneth Branagh
What happens when you mix Norse mythology, Marvel, and and Shakespearean fanboy director?
Thor. Sam Raimi and Matthew Vaughn nearly made a Thor movie, but that’s the biz; it doesn’t always work out. They sound weird for this film. But who wouldn’t? Norse gods living in the same world as the Incredible Hulk and Tony Stark.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Heir to the throne of Asgard, Thor is banished to Earth to learn some humility before he is worthy to rule.
You need little imagination to discern the hero of Thor. He’s Thor. Chris Hemsworth throws out the opening salvo in the Marvel Chris Wars, playing the Norse god of thunder.
This being the Marvel Cinematic Universe, mythology is not quite what it was in the Vikings’ day. A voiceover introduces us first to the Frost Giants, and then Odin (Anthony Hopkins), each races of one of the Nine Realms, at war for ages, and worshipped as gods or feared as demons on Earth.
Thor comes in later, after the fall of the Frost Giants, as a child alongside his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Odin dispenses some wisdom to his sons about power, kingship, and their destinies.
Skip ahead 20 years. Thor’s coronation day. The elite of Asgard (that’s Odin’s realm) gather to celebrate Odin’s favorite son. Thor enters a large chamber, full of people, but before we see his face we glimpse his hammer, Mjolnir, a weapon forged from a dying star, and one of the most powerful items in existence.
Thor soaks in the adoration. He’s a born ham, a natural attention seeker. We first hear the Thor laugh, a bellow of chumminess, a laugh that puts all at ease regardless of situation. He smiles at his brodies and winks at his mother.
The usual coronation ceremonies commence while a break-in occurs beneath Asgard. Thor affirms the usual pledges: he will cast aside his ambitions, not put himself above the realm, yada yada yada. Meanwhile, some pesky Frost Giants are infiltrating the Asgard National Archives to steal back The Casket, a box of blue energy that zaps anyone stuck in front of it into ice.
The theft fails, but succeeds in delaying Thor’s becoming king of Asgard. He was one word away. “I proclaim you,” Odin says, before he realized the Frost Giants were inside the keep. No problem, Asgard has a 20-foot-tall metal anthropoid called The Destroyer ready to blast those Frost Giants into oblivion. And it does.
Now we see Thor’s energy and rage. He wants to smash the Frost Giants into oblivion. He gathers his friends and attacks Jötunheim, a frozen waste realm home to the red-eyed, blue-skinned Frost Giants. Thor is a great fighter, at least with Mjolnir in his hands. They crush a lot of Frost Giants, enough to start a war, which Thor wanted. Odin shows up to rescue his sons (Loki went along) and prevent the war.
Safely in Asgard, father and son argue. Odin calls Thor arrogant and Thor calls Odin a fool. “The old ways are done,” Thor says, more or less how every child has spoken to every parent in all the realms. Odin calls Thor “unworthy” and starts stripping his garments. He takes the hammer and throws it to Earth after imbuing it with Thor’s power. Whoever is worthy, Odin says, may wield it.
Exiled on Earth and powerless, Thor meets some local scientists coincidentally studying Einstein-Rosenberg bridges and their links to other realms. Shakespearean family drama shifts to romantic comedy. Sounds like a phase shift that this vessel couldn’t handle, but Thor pulls it off. Thor is a fish out of water and game to play a cad, a god, or a fighting bro. An Australian like Hemsworth is probably the right actor for this role.
Cut like a Greek–er, Norse–god, Hemsworth is funny. He holds his own when dramatic moments call for dramatic acting. Consider the scene when he grips Mjolnir on Earth. Thor fights his way through dozens of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to take back his weapon. He grips it in the rain. It doesn’t move. He is not worthy. Almost cliched, Thor looks to the sky and screams. It’s a good scream, one Hemsworth had to nail and does.
Late in the film, Thor, still powerless, helps some puny humans to safety. He offers his life in exchange for Loki’s leaving Earth alone. The Destroyer, Loki’s agent on Earth, sends Thor flying. This sacrifice makes Thor worthy to wield Mjolnir again, and the hammer revives him for a brother-vs.-brother showdown.
Asgard’s chief mischief maker Loki drives much of the action in Thor. Loki is Thor’s brother from another mother, a fact we learn as Loki learns it, when Loki is an adult. Turns out Loki was a Frost Giant baby. Odin took him as his own, raising him alongside his biological son Thor as an Asgardian for the next 20-plus years.
Odin raised his children foolishly, from a young age he set them up to compete rather than work together. As children, looking upon The Casket (the Frost Giants’ chief freezing weapon), he tells them, “Both of you were born to be kings,” but only one can be king of Asgard. Can a father say a more confusing thing to a child? Odin was right, but wow was he dumb to say it like that.
Loki hones deception and subterfuge as his talents, knowing he could not beat Thor in a fistfight. It’s Loki who allows a few Frost Giants into Asgard to ruin Thor’s big day, and he strikes a deal with the Frost Giant king, letting him into Asgard to kill Odin so Loki can assume kingship.
Tricky tricky that Loki. A bit of mischief for Loki is a lot of turmoil for most. Turns out his plan worked, because Loki was posing as Odin’s disloyal son to gain the Frost Giants’ trust, only to let them into Asgard and kill the king.
The family drama amongst Odin and his sons is the heart of Thor. “All I ever wanted,” Loki says to Thor, near the end, “was to prove I was your equal.” All this talk of genocide and Earth and nine realms, it’s only about family.
Loki believes his father doesn’t love him, and that’s why he’s out there trying to kill Odin’s enemies. Loki’s final day in Asgard almost became his finest hour. Instead, thanks to his (sarcastic voice) perfect older brother, Loki falls into the disappearing realm of Jötunheim.
We know he doesn’t die, because he appears on Earth in the post-credits scene, influencing Dr. Selvig in the company of Nick Fury.
Hiddleston is a great cast as Loki. His Cheshire cat grin easily lends itself to villainy, and Hiddleston’s passion convinces. Loki’s had a lifetime of being second of two brothers, and Hiddleston makes us believe it.
Thor is light on the action pieces. As Odin narrates, we watch his army decimate the Frost Giants. This occurs about 1,000 years before the present action, so what’s the big deal? Nothing.
The largest action set piece in present time occurs in Jötunheim, when Thor and his buddies invade the realm to get a war started. The skirmish shows some of the unusual fighting skills we’ll see in more detail later. Loki creates multiple images of himself to fool the Frost Giants. Thor has a hammer that flies, obeys his commands, and breaks anything. Thor’s four best friends and drinking buddies beat up several Frost Giants. The locals also have a guard that stands 50 feet tall.
Thor plays better as a beautiful effects palate of Asgard. Nothing beats the gorgeous rainbow bridge, the Bifrost, that connects Asgard to the portal blasting people to other realms. This bridge pulses with energy and crackles with black-tinged rainbow colors.
Strange stars, colorful characters, and frozen creatures make Thor a fun movie for kooky effects, but it lacks big action scenes. I don’t know if Branagh is a good action director, but I bet he didn’t want to find out.
Being heir to the throne, Thor needs plenty of help to achieve his ends, and he gets it in Asgard, Jötunheim, and Earth. Four dedicated friends are ready to start a war for their buddy. Three men and one woman, they are Asgard’s greatest non-royal fighters. They show off their skills in Jötunheim.
Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, budding astrophysicist and possible insane person. Jane’s tracked atmospheric disturbances across This Great Land, and she’s found another swirling above New Mexico. It’s a big one.
Jane, her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), and advisor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) ride in a teched-out van toward the disturbance. “I am not dying for six college credits,” Darcy says.
Who is dying is Thor, or so the humans think, when the van smashes into the fallen god. Several scenes later, we see the aftermath. Thor stands, asks what realm it is, and gets tasered.
After some funny scenes of Thor walking around rural New Mexico, we get to the tender moments. Jane falls in love, or, perhaps, in lust, with Thor. Wouldn’t you?
Turns out Jane was on the right track with her theories of Einstein-Rosenberg bridges, a.k.a. wormholes, crisscrossing the universe. In a quiet moment on a New Mexico rooftop, Thor takes Jane’s notebook and explains that there are nine realms, of which Earth is one. She had the realms well drawn; Thor outlines them to drive home his point.
Shortly after meeting Thor, S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up and steals all of Jane’s work, including her notebook, and even Darcy’s iPod, the bastards. Jane, enraged, threatens Agent Coulson, but what can one person do when a secret government agency steals your stuff in the night? You could hire a bevy of lawyers, or you could get Norse gods to fight on your side.
Jane chooses the latter. Thor gets wind of Mjolnir just chilling in the New Mexico desert, not far from where he arrived on Earth. Jane follows and observes Thor bash his way into the compound. He’s unable to take the hammer, of course, because he is not yet worthy, but he does take Jane’s notebook back to her.
The producers of Thor wanted Jane to be a dynamic character. She is passionate and smart, but doesn’t sway Thor enough to be an important part of the story. We are supposed to believe that Thor’s love for Jane humbled him and made him hammer-worthy.
I’m not buying it. Unable to lift the hammer, Thor’s devastated. He believes his father is dead. He tells Erik that he has no idea what to do with his life. He can’t fight, can barely drink as well as an old human, and his path to Asgard is closed.
Thor is willing to die in place of the puny humans. That’s the moment that makes him hammer-worthy, and I don’t believe Jane had much to do with his motivation in that moment, more desperation from Thor than love.
King Laufey of the Frost Giants dislikes Odin and the Asgardians. Guy holds a grudge, but Odin did nearly destroy their realm. You probably would too. The Frost Giants aren’t in this story as often as they could be.
Chris Hemsworth shows off his fighting skills in one sequence. Thor, marooned in New Mexico, has a jolly time drinking with his new friends Jane, Darcy, and Erik. One morning, after a good cup of joe, Thor overhears some locals discussing the strange, immovable object out in the country.
Thor knows it to be Mjolnir, and he sets out for it. Jane goes with him. They find the area surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. The group has built a large perimeter fence, research facility, and a maze of white tubing that evoke a quarantine.
Before they reach the sight, Thor predicts the rain will start. Neat trick, but one you’d expect the god of thunder to have in his arsenal. Rain it does. Jane stays outside the fence and watches through binoculars. To be safe, she calls Dr. Selvig, in case she goes missing forever.
Thor has no problems entering the site. He dons a rain slick to hide better and walks into the white tubing. Some guys get wind of this and the best S.H.I.E.L.D. has to offer run toward Thor. Now he’s in his element.
Thor uses kicks, flips, and chuckles to knock out the best fighters in America. He grabs a hanging bar to use as leverage. Guys are falling down ladders and into the flimsy white tubing. Thor, meanwhile, loves this. All part of the game of life, he seems to think.
Coulson, watching on a monitor, find Thor intriguing. Always a calm guy, that Coulson. Still, he asks his best fighter, a bowman named Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to take a high position and prepare to shoot Thor. Watching Thor again, I forgot Hawkeye was in it.
The biggest, baddest dude in S.H.I.E.L.D. is the final man standing between Thor and his destiny. If you tuned into Thor for muscled dudes wrestling in the mud, you came away satisfied, because that’s just what these guys do. Lots of grappling and rolling. It’s a little too Greco-Roman for a Norse god, so Thor finishes the man with a tremendous, double-legged drop kick into his chest.
Without hindrance and with Coulson and Hawkeye watching, Thor approaches Mjolnir and its surging electromagnetic currents. He can’t move it, of course, for he is not yet worthy. Thor turns to the sky and rage screams. Hemsworth displays good Acting.
Thor’s attempt to regain his hammer is the movie’s best fight scene. Good, old-fashioned punches and kicks. Dudes fightin’. Hugging it out afterward. Good times.
What most folks probably thought was a tornado in mile-high New Mexico was something far worse. The Destroyer.
The giant mechanical warrior made for one purpose (hence its name), stands at attention in the desert outside of a small New Mexico town. Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. surround the thing, thinking it a new Stark Industries weapon, until it opens its ray gun face and blasts a car.
The Destroyer walks through Main Street destroying. Cars, mostly, explode from its singular, face-based weapon. Thor’s friends attack by leaping through the air. Sif stabs it in the spine and thinks it dead, until The Destroyer reverses itself and slides off the spear. Then it blasts Volstagg out of a diner.
Thor convinces Sif to stop fighting and rescue his friends. They return to Asgard because Thor has a plan.
Thor faces The Destroyer in a plaid shirt. He speaks to Loki through the weapon. “Taking their lives will gain you nothing,” he says. “So take mine.”
There’s a heroic stance for you. Loki is touched and orders The Destroyer to stand down. It does after bitch-slapping Thor thirty feet. Lying on the asphalt, Thor dies. Odin, still in a coma, weeps.
Out in the desert, Mjolnir awakens. It bolts through the sky, bringing thunder and lightning, into Thor’s hand, enlivening the Asgardian and returning to him his cape and armor.
The hammer creates a vortex that draws The Destroyer skyward. Mjolnir deflects the heat rays, and Thor drives the robot into the ground.
Loki keeps his bargain and brings King Laufey into Asgard. Heimdall (Idris Elba) is busy unfreezing himself, but when he does he opens the Bifrost.
Thor says to Jane, “I give you my word, I will return for you.” It’s real convincing. They almost do a smooch. Then they do a hard smooch. What gal doesn’t want to fall in love with a prince?
Back in Asgard, King Laufey enters Odin’s chamber and sits astride him, eager to kill and have Odin see who was doing it. Suddenly, a blast strikes the king in the back. It’s Loki! “Your death came by the son of Odin,” he says.
Thor enters just then, and he’s mad, throwing around words like “liar” and “kill” while his mother watches. Loki zaps Thor out of the palace while he rides to destroy Jötunheim with the blast of energy made by the Bifrost gate.
Thor’s on his way as well, doing his best Neo impression, flying with Mjolnir. Loki is using his ice skills to freeze the gate. Why is he doing this? Well, Loki says, he wants to prove to dad that he’s worthy. He’ll kill all their enemies, save Odin’s life, and be true heir to the throne, and all in time for dinner.
“I never wanted the throne,” Loki says. “I only ever wanted to be your equal.” Thor refuses to fight. He’s gone soft, on account of Jane. So thinks Loki, who threatens to “pay her a visit,” if you know what he means, after all this is over. That enrages Thor and the two collide, weapons first.
They trade blows. The hammer and the spear collide and shoot sparks and lightning bolts. Loki jams his spear into the floor and uses it as a pole to leverage his body into a kick that would make Cirque du Soleil proud. Thor charges and blows both men out of the gate chamber and onto the rainbow bridge, which looks fantastic as Loki dangles from it.
Thor reaches a hand to pull up his brother, but the image disappears. You knew he was going to use that trick, but Thor didn’t. The real Loki pops up behind Thor and stabs brother in chest. He laughs like a parody of an insane villain as a dozen facsimiles flit into existence.
Thor, on his back, uses Mjolnir to blast away all the images, leaving the real Loki on the ground and separated from his spear. Thor bends over his supine brother and places the hammer, the hammer Loki cannot move unless he is worthy, onto him.
Thor, unable to get back into the gate room, recalls Mjolnir. He smashes the bridge. Odin opens an eye. Loki tells him the obvious, that he’ll never see Jane again. A final strike severs the bridge and destroys the gate, saving the Frost Giants.
Odin returns to grip Thor’s arm, who grips Loki’s spear. “I could have done it, father,” Loki pleads to Odin. Odin shuts that down. The unfavorite son can’t bear it, releasing his grip and falling into Jötunheim.
Jane’s sad about the whole thing, but Thor’s buddies are stoked. Thor joins Odin. “You’ll be a wise king,” Odin says. But not yet. Odin’s still kicking.
A god of mischief ought to be funny, but Loki’s got too much on his mind in Thor for jokes. Thor’s the funny one. Sounds strange–what’s funny about thunder?–but it’s true.
Thor’s best comedic work comes in the second act, when he’s walking around Earth and before he realizes he can’t move Mjolnir. “What realm is this?” he asks Jane moments before Darcy tasters him. Later, after escaping from a hospital, Jane backs up her van and hits Thor a second time. The look on Thor’s face before he’s struck is priceless, the moment Thor switches from epic family drama to slapstick comedy.
“This mortal form has grown weak,” Thor says. “I need sustenance.” After drinking a smashing good cup of joe in a diner he smashes the mug to ask for more. In a pet store, Thor says to the employee, “I need a horse.” When he hears of some locals trying to dig a hammer out of the dirt, Thor sets out to walk fifty miles west, as if he knows what “miles” and “west” are. “Fifty” might be a foreign concept to him.
Fish out of water tales are well tread comedic ground. Such jokes work in Thor because they are unexpected. Kings are dying, gods are angry, and Earth is in danger. We don’t expect multiple comedic scenes, yet we get ’em.
Thor explains to Jane that her research is on the nose. Existence consists of nine realms. Earth is in one, so are Asgard and Jötunheim, where the Frost Giants live. The non-Earth realms have easy transit amongst each other. All Thor’s people need is Heimdall, the gatekeeper’s, permission and they can go anywhere with ease. Riding horses along the rainbow bridge seems to last longer than transit between Asgard and Earth.
We see a long overhead of Asgard early in the film. Marvel’s Rivendell, the world is a flat disc the size of a metropolitan area. Gravity exists, but how? Not explained. That’s OK. Asgard’s central structure is a pipe-organ inspired palace hundreds of feet tall. Gold is a popular color in Asgard.
The Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, sticks in the mind. Shimmering and pulsing rainbow colors connect Asgard to the edge of its realm, where the water falls over the edge and returns…somewhere.
Thor tells the story of how sexy Asgard warriors make ladies lose their minds. Or, OR, it’s the story of fathers showing favorites and how dangerous that can be. No, wait, Thor‘s about how brothers compete for everything.
Way to work Idris Elba into Norse mythology.
- The strangest thing about The Destroyer is that no character ever considers its resemblance to Klaatu (the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still). Prime joke material right there.
Summary (32/68): 47%
Thor is a good start to the Norse god’s story. Branagh wisely keeps the focus on the family drama. Marvel’s universe is vast and full of strange characters that will only get stranger as the movies shift further into space and other realms. Better to keep this origin film grounded.