Thor – Movie Review: A Study In Universe Expansion

Marvel Studios have had a lot of success at the box office lately, especially with the Iron Man movies, and they obviously plan to have a lot more success in the coming years with a busy slate of production. The latest offering is Thor. Is it going to be a success? Damn straight, and for many reasons, let’s get into them.

The movie opens relatively quietly as Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster finds Chris Hemsworth’s Thor amidst an unnatural phenomenon in the sky. It’s an effective scene, simple, and yet gets across the point that Thor isn’t from around here. The low key nature works perfectly to segue from the opening credits straight into a 10th Century flashback as Norwegians are caught between a battle of the Frost Giants and the Asgardian protectors.

Within seconds of this sequence, you see the scope of the movie come alive. Thor spends much time, and screen space, universe building like we’ve only seen so effective in the Star Wars films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The expanse of massive building through Yggdrasil (the world tree) to different realms and the fighting that can occur between them is a large canvas upon which to then paint. The battles with the Frost Giants are spectacular but also frantically real. This is epic in the best ways that comics are. There’s obvious CGI being used but it doesn’t appear obvious. This is how Marvel should show scenes of a Braveheart scale. It needs to be jazzed up a little bit. Thor isn’t about showing the real brutalities of war because this isn’t real war, this is a Frost Giant and Asgard battle and as such it is spectacularly awesome.

The relationship of Thor and Loki is established early and put simply. These sons of Odin are both loved but only one can be king. It is that simple and what better reason is there for a schism to form? Again, there is no need to complicate this oppositional bond, it has enough gristle to it at its base level.

With this exposition posted, the movie makes the smartest move it can by dumping us straight into a great character moment. Thor walks through an Asgardian hall, the denizens and guards fill the space in a moment After Star Wars, itself After Riefenstahl. This is Thor’s big moment, as well as Hemsworth’s. Thor is the greatest Asgardian warrior, the god of thunder, the man with Mjolnir. We don’t need to see Thor’s deeds to understand this, we only need to see how Hemsworth wears the character. His casual manner and braggart ways in such a serious ceremony show us that Thor is the business and he knows it. He cheekily tosses the hammer as he makes his way up the stage. He is the man of the people, the ultimate hero of the ultimate people.

In this moment, you will fall in love with Thor. You can’t help but be spellbound. Hemsworth is amazing in the way he holds himself, he’s purely inhabiting this arrogant prince of a realm more powerful than we can understand. He deserves to be so enamoured with himself and there is no confusion as to why everyone else agrees with him. One smile and the fact you’re looking at a god is evident but the commanding voice sells the character completely.

Asgard is well showcased in this first quarter of the movie and it is found to be satisfactory, but it depends upon what you are wanting. There have been complaints that it looks too shiny. It is shiny, surely, but why wouldn’t it be? This is a realm where magic and science are one, they’ve probably found a way to keep those echoing halls dust free, and good on them for having figured it out. I would have preferred a more leathery set of people, not so much metal worn about the house. Some of the helmets and shields look like movie props, like aluminium, but they also look incredibly majestic. To showcase Asgard as being quite different, elevated, from Earth then it must indeed be different. These people battle Frost Giants so why wouldn’t they have such strong armour, and they are kings and gods, they should look regal. Not to mention this is a Marvel movie, a universe where Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine regularly gather in costume instead of regular clothes. It’s not about the comfort of these people it’s about the brand of the characters, deal with it. There will be reason for people to complain about the aesthetic of Asgard but in the end it still works, I feel.

Events transpire to interrupt Thor’s moment and his reaction shows us the true flaw to the character. Thor is war hungry, he yearns for battle. He’s the best there is in meting out vengeance and justice and so rightfully he would want to always be on the field of battle. However, being so quick to action isn’t the smartest way to deal with foreign nations/realms and it isn’t always the safest way to protect a realm. Thor has a hot head and he can protect himself, but can he protect absolutely everyone around him?

Loki steps into the scene to whisper in Thor’s ear. This is exactly where the character should be, and Tom Hiddleston is a perfect choice to play the role because before he even says a word I hate him. His slicked back hair and pale skin make him an obvious villain but an effective one nonetheless. It’s the sort of gleeful malevolence that made Joaquin Phoenix a hit in Gladiator. Hiddleston inhabits the slimiest qualities of Loki and even when he wants you to love him, or at least feel for him, you hate him. That’s why he’ll always be a villain because the world will always cast him in this role.

The Warriors Three are an interesting sell because they’ve always looked very goofy. They’re caricatured shortcuts for sidekicks and the movie does its best to relate more with them but ultimately has to cast them aside in many instances to make room for the real narrative. Volstagg gets the most screen because he’s the most fun. Ray Stevenson works his fat suit like the Gimli of the group and his voice carries all he needs to do. Fandrall and Hogun are not as effective, sadly, and so they feel removed from the movie as dead weight. It’s a Catch 22 because fanboys would have been annoyed to see them removed from the start even though the best thing to have done would have been to crop them, alter them greatly, or just keep Volstagg.

Sif, however, hints at further success not completely capitalised on in this flick. Jaimie Alexander sells the role of bad ass warrior chick, but only has so many scenes in which to actually offer these wares. She looks the right combination of hard and yet still beautiful. There’s not quite enough of Sif here but I take it as a promise of more to come. She needs to stand beside Thor in a future movie.

As Thor and his hunting party journey to Jotunheim, it becomes apparent that this world of Asgardians is a reality of super science. Bifrost and Heimdall the gate keeper and then Jotunheim itself all feel like they’ve sprung from the spirit of Jack Kirby. Machines have cogs and the earth feels worn. Everything feels like it has purpose and history. It might not be a purpose we can understand but it’s there. This isn’t smoke and mirrors magic, this is another realm of fantastical science.

The Frost Giants are an effectively created set of villains, if possibly underused. Colm Feore plays Laufey, their leader, and he looks the part in the sculpture of his face. Make-up adds details but he brings his own menace. This is good casting to lend a truly authorial voice to the mean and nasty blue beings.

The showdown on Jotunheim is an eerie moment that shares tone and texture with Ridley Scott’s Alien. The environment is strange, broken, and cold. The light source is obscured and ethereal. Thus, the inhabitants are dangerous, creepy, and entirely enthralling. The fighting is more sinister than truly frightening but there is no doubt that it is all awe-inspiring. Thor shows why he is the vain god of thunder as he decimates waves of Frost Giants. The camera follows the hammer and the blows come furiously. The beast that is summoned is equal parts Balrog and Rancor, and as much as it’s an awesome moment it’s also this film standing up to the other defining epics of their generations. Star Wars took us into the summer blockbuster and Lord of the Rings took us into the new millennium. Thor is going to take us into the movie age of Marvel.

Mjolnir isn’t swung idly by Thor’s side, this hammer of battle is constantly put into different uses throughout the movie and that is a smart choice. You can only smash a hammer into something so many times, you don’t want the very cool weapon to become tired in the first movie. Thor uses it to spray Frost Giants with chunks of earth as well as fly himself around and then deliver the thunder. Each battle sees Mjolnir dominate in a different way but the piece de resistance is, of course, Thor and Mjolnir travelling through the cranium of an opponent. It’s a cool moment that every Thor fan is waiting for, and Branagh films it just like you want. This skull shattering moment is the old school rock moment of the flick, though no Zeppelin is used to underscore it.

Though Thor is grand in battle, a mighty hammer just isn’t enough. Odin steps in to course correct and the ensuing familial fight is deep enough to rattle windows and harsh enough to make even a god regret. This is the true moment where we see the Shakespeare on the screen, and Hopkins delivers, obviously, but so does Hemsworth. It helps that his role is the young buck against the wise older statesman but both actors deliver a convincing portrayal of their side of the argument. It just seems that Odin is more powerful and banishes Thor, to teach him a lesson.

Thus ends the very powerful first act of Thor. It’s epic and it aims high to deliver fantastical thrills. It delivers in so many respects but perhaps through genre alone is hard to ultimately take seriously. The acting and ideas are more than sound but it’s still men standing around in strange armour fighting and yelling. If you can put this aside then you will certainly enjoy this portion of the movie, and the further Asgardian scenes to come, but if it rings hollow then you might have some troubles. I found Asgard to be well constructed and charming in an almost sterile quality.

When Thor lands on Earth, the tone shifts. There is little comedy to be found in Asgard but having Thor out of his element provides for many moments of levity. In fact, you’d be surprised how many times you laugh out loud in this second act. The comedy isn’t all-encompassing but what is attempted lands nearly every time. It’s a good break in the movie before the third act brings us back into the action and spectacle movie this is.

The scene of Thor with his shirt off is impressive, no doubt, but if you watch the scene you’ll see there’s no real reason for Thor to have his shirt off. A minor gripe, perhaps, but one deserving of attention. Well, probably not actually, the site of Hemsworth sans shirt is the point of the scene in itself, and there’s no arguing against it. Male and female hearts across the cinema a-fluttered off his washboard stomach. This is an icon and a legend being born.

Thor treads a fine line between being a parody of a man of a different time in our land and an accurate portrayal of how a warrior god would soak in this new environment. It’s not silly at any stage, though it is funny at times. Everything is pushed forward to try and show the direct nature of Thor. He just wants his hammer back. However, when the Warriors Three and Sif arrive, it does look like a Marvel remake of The Visitors, and that’s not a good connotation you want to bring up.

The hammer in the middle of the crater in New Mexico becomes a fun spectacle as locals set up pick-up trucks and outdoor burners to enjoy the sensation of watching every strongman try to pick up the weapon. Stan Lee’s cameo at this stage is golden, bringing the funny like he always knows how. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. turn up and take over the scene. Thor carves a path through these agents to get to his hammer and the fights aren’t quite as epic as you feel they should be. Black Widow fighting in Iron Man 2 was something to behold, but here the action feels undramaticised by the direction and camera work. It’s good, passable, effective, but it isn’t exactly insanely stellar. Thor ends the final fight with a brutal double kick but the rest is more grappling than true mastery.

The moment where he confronts the hammer, as Agent Coulson looks on, is filmed to showcase what the scene means, not what is actually happening. It’s well done and the rain and emotion on display both drip down with thick dread. Here we get the Hawkeye cameo, and it is certainly a good understanding of what more will come in The Avengers, and you should be excited.

The more Thor interacts with Jane Foster the more you get the feeling this is a real relationship. There isn’t a moment where Jane doesn’t giddily treat Thor as anything but godlike. She doesn’t know this man, and doesn’t really get the time to know him, but we’re not being sold a rational love. This is an elemental pairing, something Jane can barely control or understand, and doesn’t want to ruin by trying. The way she reacts to Thor in nearly every scene is real. The way Hemsworth looks, the way he carries himself, it is realistic he could choose from any girl. He is the sort of man who catches an eye but then holds the attention by still, surprising in this day, being a gentleman about his conduct. It’s a great relationship that both actors sell as exactly what it is. There’s isn’t any break in reality where they look into each others’ eyes and know the other’s soul. They just look at what they see and find they like it. A lot. And that is reasonable.

With the serious set up of Asgard, and the apparently goofy human element of Earth established, it is the final act that feels a little by-the-numbers. Things are blown up, hammers are wielded, and rainbow bridges look spectacular, but there aren’t many surprises. The ending that is earned is reached but you won’t be shocked by much. A shame but also an effectively safe route to wrap things up and leave the audience wanting more.

The final action of Thor is the best aspect as it sells the growth of his character. He isn’t the selfish war monger anymore. He is the deity who thinks of his kingdom, and of the future. He is a general, not just a warrior. He has learnt to be selfless. It’s the typical hero journey, but it is presented well. Plus, it’s a good lesson for the kiddies.

This movie is undoubtedly a superhero movie. The tone, the structure, the angles, the vibe, it all points to a great origin tale. I feel this one will stand up with Spider-Man and Iron Man, but though on the same level of quality it is a very different film. Spider-Man went straight out for the comic nerds whereas Iron Man felt like it was for a more mainstream and almost quirky audience. Thor is a fantasy epic, make no mistake about it, and it is a great one. It’s not about some teen finding his heart, or an industrialist constructing one, this is about a god and by pure definition this separates Thor from the other movies. It can occupy the same universe but still be a very different part of it.

I’d say this movie owes more to the awe and spectacle of Superman: The Movie than it does the gritty realism of the Nolan Batman flicks. You will believe a god can fly, with a hammer in his hand. This feels like the best kind of kid’s flick:  it’s amazing and fun and completely enthralling but, most importantly, it isn’t aimed at kids. This is the movie kids can watch, and enjoy, and not be tainted by, but it’s still an adult flick. A generation will grow up with this and love it. As for me, I am firmly going to be a part of that generation.

I’m calling Thor a resounding win. This movie is so much fun that you can’t help but be wowed by the end of it all. Hemsworth is a definite success in the role. His opening scene just about sent shivers over me as he cheers and swaggers into the role but throughout the movie he doesn’t rely on his imposing, and impressive, physique to meet the role. Hemsworth sells us a man, a god, and makes every step along the journey dazzlingly brilliant. You want action scenes, you got ’em. You want some fun moments that show the heart beneath the muscle, you got ’em. You want the god who brings the thunder, you definitely got ’im.

Hemsworth is going to be an easy sell next to Robert Downey Jr in The Avengers, not to mention Chris Evans after his Captain America movie debuts soon enough. Hemsworth has the posture and presence to be a part of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but I can only see his Thor leading it. Evans will have to do some mighty fine work to make me believe this god will follow his command.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Hemsworth will get an Oscar nom, but this is the sort of role that should attract him a few MTV awards and certainly further big number roles in future projects. The man knows how to own a screen.

Natalie Portman is also exceptionally cute in this role. She plays so much of the movie blinded by the glitter of the character of Thor, and that’s a smart choice. Some might see it as a tad chauvinistic but I see it as quirky and much more relatable than the usual progress of the girl liking the guy but acting all tough about it. Portman is a winner in this role, though the character is admittedly on the thinner side.

Hopkins dominates the role of Odin, as if this Shakespearean titan were born to play the father of the gods. You want this all to go a certain way and it does. No surprises here but that’s only because you demand the best of Sir Anthony every time.

Agent Coulson is such an awesome Marvel movie creation, and he continues to hold his own in this movie. The man can act but he’s also just so entirely made this role his own.

The few complaints for this movie are some of the aspects the filmmakers probably thought were going to rate higher. The Destroyer comes across as a token plot device, and without any characterisation is thin and ultimately pithy. It makes things go blammo but it doesn’t really help the credibility of what is being built here.

The hammer is available for any who shall be worthy, Odin’s words not mine. Are you then telling me that there’s no one on Earth as worthy as Thor to wield Mjolnir? That struck me as odd, and seeing what Thor goes through and does I can think of dozens who should be in the same stratosphere. Bring on Beta Ray Bill, I say. Mix this flick up.

If you sit back and analyse the narrative on offer in this flick then you’ll find it is relatively thin, and quick, but if you give yourself over to the style of the movie then it will not bother you. You will be disappointed if you go seeking that emotion. If you strap yourself in and feel the Gs then you’re going to walk away with so many “hell yeah” moments to discuss that you’ll know you got your money’s worth. Thor isn’t a perfect movie, in any educated sense, but the inner fan within you will love it.

Thor is a god-sized epic of a movie. A definite to entertain an entire family and something you’ll all want to see again without a doubt. Solid acting performances and well directed effects make this fantasy feel like a major production like only comes along every decade or more. Thor is an example of what Marvel keep doing right with their movie adaptations. This is the Thor movie you want.

Oh, and the after credit sequence, as befitting an Asgardian epic of Kirby science and spectacle, is totally “cosmic.” Enjoy.