It’s no secret that I love superheroes—or at least, it isn’t now. I have gone to every midnight showing for every superhero film since X-Men (yes, including Ghost Rider and…ugh…Elektra). That means I was compelled to see Thor no matter what. But it doesn’t mean I was going to like it.
After seeing so many superhero-origin films, you start to get annoyed by the formulaic take most are hampered by. We see whatever incident granted the hero his powers (or, in this case, what set him on his journey to reclaim them), the introduction of the villain, the superfluous meet cute romance, and so on. Thor is so by-the-books that it might as well be a dead partner in an ’80s cop movie.
Still, somehow it works. That’s mainly because it’s just so much damn fun. The film opens with Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) narrating the history of the Norse Gods’ home, Asgard, and their battle with the Frost Giants from the world of Jotunheim, also showing the relationship between a young Thor and his brother, Loki.
In this version of the myth, Asgard is one of the “Nine Realms” and with Earth and Jotunheim (so the Norse Gods are technically aliens, which is awesome) that are accessed through a “rainbow bridge,” which somehow doesn’t look completely ridiculous on-screen. The film jumps to an older Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as Thor is about to claim the throne of Asgard. After an attack from the Frost Giants disrupts the ceremony, Thor decides to wage an impromptu attack against them with Loki and his other friends. This siege fails, and leads to them needing to be rescued by Odin.
Odin decides to banish Thor on Earth for his arrogance and impulsiveness. The rest of the movie is about Thor’s redemption…but I didn’t need to tell you that. It’s part of the formula.
However, like a recipe for a great meal, sometimes the ingredients don’t need to be changed much. Most superhero stories fall into archetypes anyway, so to be formulaic and cliche is not necessary a death kneel to a film like this, but it is a handicap. Thor overcomes this handicap, however, through fun performances, well-staged action sequences, and a nice bit of humor.
Clearly knowing the tonal challenges the film possesses, director Kenneth Branagh—best known for his Shakespeare adaptations and as the main villain in Wild, Wild, West—does a great job corralling the tonal shifts of the film, from a royal political thriller on Asgard, to a funny fish-out-of-water comedy once Thor reaches Earth, to a straight up action flick once the superhero-ing begins. An inherent ridiculousness exists when trying to create a mostly serious film that features gods in absurd outfits walking around like they’re Power Ranger guest stars. The fact that the film is able to be taken seriously at all is a credit to Branagh’s talents.
But it’s not all hearts and rainbow bridges. There are some glaring flaws in this film besides its inherent “been there, done that”-ness. One of the main problems were the motivations of the main villain, Loki, who starts a convoluted plot to start another war with the Frost Giants by betraying the Asgardians to take the throne from Thor, and then betrays the Frost Giants to earn the trust of the Asgardians and Odin. If that somehow makes sense in print, it certainly doesn’t on film.
His motivations stem from the fact that he feels unloved by Odin for being an adopted son, even though Odin specifically tells him that he loves him dearly. Why go through all that trouble to earn love and respect from someone who already loves and respects you? It takes a lot away from the Shakespearean tragedy Branagh was clearly going for. And, speaking of Branagh: enough with the Dutch angles already!
In the end, the movie is just like its hero: big, loud, and deeply flawed—but ultimately likable and entertaining.