by: Austin Welch
It’s hammer time!
No, no – put away your shiny gold pants – this isn’t an announcement of MC Hammer’s comeback. It’s a different kind of hammer time. If you’ve ever listened to our podcast, you’ll know that while I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy in general, I’m not the biggest comic book/superhero guy. So in this glut of cape-and-tights cinema we’ve had the past decade plus, I tend to revert to a bit of the “everyman” when it comes to attending these sorts of movies, with maybe a smidgen of “heads-up” from my colleagues. This was my mindset as I sat down for Thor.
So what did I know about Thor going in? He’s a Norse god, big and blonde, wears a helmet with wings and the requisite cape. Oh, and he wields a big-ass hammer. Also, as Adventures In Babysitting made sure to point out, he’s not a homo.
The good news is, for any average moviegoer, you don’t need to know much more than that. The film does an excellent job of setting everything up – Thor and his hammer Mjolnir, his fellow gods, their magic land of Asgard, and the human characters. By the first quarter of the film, you’ve learned essentially everything you need to know, and the rest is a thrill ride, to be sure. The story was easy to follow without being overly simple, was well-paced, and the conclusion left one satisfied – though the possibilities for a sequel were certainly planted.
Director Kenneth Branagh did what so many claim to want to do – but most often fail – by treating the source material with dignity and respect, and not allowing everything to devolve into your average superhero popcorn flick. Is one whose career is so tied to the Shakespearean inclined to treat everything with this seriousness? Perhaps, but good for him. The film felt Shakespearean, if not in subject matter, than in tone. It’s almost a period piece. And therefore, a newbie like me was perfectly willing to meet it halfway and give it the benefit of the doubt.
In his first tentpole-hoist of a starring role, Chris Hemsworth has shown himself to be worthy of marquee placement. He disguised his Aussie accent with the quasi-British inflection his Asgardian costars did with ease, and made the most of his screentime, exuding the confidence of a veteran. Natalie Portman, by this point a fanboy favorite leading lady, captured Jane Foster’s nerd-girl charm with equal ease, but then, she’s an old hand at this compared to her costar.
Members of the supporting cast such as Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Alba, and the great Anthony Hopkins were adept in the roles, literally supporting everything else going on in the film. Kat Dennings, the lone original character in the film, seemed to be placed for comic relief, and I can’t say that such placement didn’t work. In fact, the film, at least in the first half, is funnier than you’d expect. And Clark Gregg is always enjoyable as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agent Phil Coulson, offering up one of the film’s best lines, a reference to off-screen-but-in-universe character Tony Stark.
But if there’s a pleasant surprise here, it’s Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The adopted brother of Thor channels his jealously into a secret campaign to discredit his brother, and manages to cause him to be banished to Earth. Hiddleston understood that Loki is not explicitly evil, but certainly not without his bad intentions. One in a long line of well-played, complicated villains that figures prominently in the upcoming Avengers team-up film.
The screening I attended was a 3D Imax presentation. While Imax is always welcome, Thor in 3D is, well, not exactly necessary. It didn’t hurt the film, as 3D often does (Clash Of The Titans, anyone?), but it didn’t really add much, either. Save your 3D surcharge for some popcorn. Thor‘s effects are quite literally out of this world; among the myriad effects, without a doubt the most breathtaking were the jaunts between realms along the Rainbow Bridge. Not since the Millenium Falcon first dove into hyperspace have we been treated to such a dazzling trip through space.
A trio of heads-up: keep an eye out for Stan Lee as the driver of the pickup trying to pull Mjolnir out of the crater, take note of Jeremy Renner as the archer – and emerging character – Hawkeye, and stay through the credits for the by-now obligatory Avengers setup Easter egg.
While there’s part of me hesitating to say that this film is an all-out home run, I’d also be at a loss for words if you’d held a gun to my head, demanding that I volunteer negative feedback. There’s really nothing bad that I can say for the movie. In a time when attending a movie runs you upward of ten dollars – well upward if you insist on 3D and/or Imax – Thor certainly delivers value for your dollar, and serves well to kick off the summer season. Here’s to hoping Captain America and X-men: First Class deliver as well.
For more of a die-hard Thor fan’s perspective, check out my colleague Sam The Horror Man’s review here.