Should I Watch..? Thor
What's the Big Deal?
Thor is a superhero fantasy film released in 2011 and is the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) during its first chapter. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is a blend of superhero film and Norse mythology and is based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber. It offered viewers a different world to what had been seen previously in both The Incredible Hulk (1) and the two Iron Man films that preceded the release of Thor. It acts as both an origin story for the character as well as expanding the concepts already introduced in earlier MCU movies such as the work of SHIELD and their agents. It also introduces the Tesseract, a powerful object which becomes a crucial part of the MCU in the future. Like other Marvel films, it was a huge financial hit and pushed Marvel Studios even further into the stratosphere.
What's it about?
Unbeknown to most humans, Earth is one of nine realms that make up Asgard - a series of interconnecting planets, each with its own races and cultures. In the realm of Asgard, the mighty warrior Thor is about to succeed his father Odin to the throne of Asgard in place of his younger brother Loki. But after an attack by Frost Giants from Jotenheim, Thor travels with Loki to Jotunheim along with his childhood friend Sif and the Warriors Three - Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral. Thor's assault on Jotunheim destroys the truce between the two realms and with Asgard now at war, Odin has no choice but to strip Thor of his powers and banishes him to Midgard - our Earth.
Thor is found in New Mexico by astrophysicist Jane Foster and her mentor Dr Erik Selvig and slowly comes to realise that he is no without his strength or his hammer, Mjolnir. However, a local SHIELD encampment has found it and a team led by Agent Phil Coulson attempts to understand what it is and crucially, where it came from. Meanwhile, frustrated at his failure to secure Asgard's throne for himself, Loki decides to seize power for himself and sends the Destroyer - an apparently unstoppable giant automaton - to Earth to finish Thor once and for all...
Dr Erik Selvig
Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost Bridge between realms
Agent Phil Coulson
Ashley Miller, Don Payne & Zach Stentz *
Release Date (UK)
27th April, 2011
Action, Adventure, Superhero, Fantasy
What's to like?
Make no mistake, this is a movie that offers its audience a journey to a very different world to ours. Asgard, with its classical architecture and heavy Nordic influences, looks stunning on a big screen and does a grand job of convincing you that you really are in a different part of the universe. And as convincing as the effects are, the cast are equally believable - Hemsworth's impressive physique demonstrates perfect casting (as well as possibly a desire to get more women watching, perhaps) while Hiddleston's Loki is a villain for the ages - suave, manipulative and every inch the trickster you expect him to be. Branagh is very much an actor's director and there aren't many members of the cast who don't benefit from his direction.
There's probably a reason why quite a lot of its sequel - Thor: The Dark World (2) - is set in Asgard as opposed to Earth. The level of detail and imagination shown on Thor's homeworld is so deep that you believe and understand the culture and society there. Even the costumes, extravagant and finished with such finesse, are amazing - Loki's epic horned helmet looks as spectacular as it does ridiculous but hey, at least it's staying true to the comics.
- When Hemsworth and Hopkins first saw each other in costume, Hopkins remarked "God, there's no acting required here, is there?"
- Hiddleston found Loki's enormous helmet heavy, uncomfortable to wear and hard to see out of. He then channelled this discomfort into his fight scenes.
- Rene Russo's appearance as Queen Frigga was her first film role in six years. It was her daughter who urged her to return from her sabbatical.
What's not to like?
Where things go badly wrong in Thor is when the action moves to Earth. Portman's astrophysicist feels more like a horny storm-chaser while Skarsgård's Dr Selvig is only in the film to explain the endless Nordic references to audiences unfamiliar with them. Gregg finally has more screen time as Agent Coulson but his character feels ambiguous, as though Branagh wasn't sure if SHIELD were meant to be good or bad. But the worst is Kat Dennings as Foster's assistant Darcy. Utilised only for comic relief and to reinforce Hemsworth's sexiness, Dennings is a complete waste of screen time as she isn't funny and there isn't a need to hype up Thor's manly chest.
Even the action seems to suffer on Earth where before, in the other realms of Asgard, things were going well. The Destroyer is your typical big boss character where his size is directly linked to his accuracy - cars and petrol stations go up in a big ball of flame but ask him to shoot at an actor and nothing happens. He doesn't even look that convincing compared to the crystal clarity of Asgard. The story progression also fails to convince as Thor struggles to regain his humility and his powers amid drinking sessions with Selvig and making doey-eyes at Jane. Just as everything started off so well, Thor descends quickly into a substandard mess of a film.
Should I watch it?
It's certainly different to other MCU films before it but Thor is a brave and adventurous movie that offers much but fails to completely deliver. The vision and imagination of Asgard, brilliantly realised from Kirby's wonderful illustrations, is forgotten all-too-soon when the film shifts to the boring, dusty plains of New Mexico and it cannot maintain its promising start. As a part of the MCU, the film is obviously worth a watch - it gives the other films a context and demonstrates that things won't just be a parade of superheroes overcoming evil. Thor doesn't feel like your average superhero film and for those already fed up of such movies, it's a breath of fresh air.
Great For: Marvel fan-boys, teenage girls, Hiddleston's career
Not So Great For: traditional superhero films, New Mexico's tourist board, supposedly comic sidekicks
What else should I watch?
Being the fourth entry of Marvel's MCU, Thor is part of a much larger picture and as such, is essential viewing for anybody wanting to watch Avengers Assemble (3) or the rest of Phase One. The power of the Tesseract and Loki feature prominently in that film so watching Thor should alleviate any questions about what's going on. It also makes it the only really essential watch before we settle down for Marvel's first 'greatest hits' package.
Surprisingly, there aren't too many other films about thunder-controlling Norse Gods but Thor: The Dark World (which is part of MCU's chapter two) is more focused on Asgard and only returns to Earth for an equally disappointing finale. Of course, if you want a more traditional superhero film then Iron Man (4) is fantastic escapism or if you're looking for something a bit more grown up or non-Marvel, Batman Begins (5) is the start of Christopher Nolan's game-changing Dark Knight trilogy and is just about as good a film with the Batman as you will ever see.