If there is one Marvel property that I have always wanted to see but never thought I would see on the big screen, it’s Thor. Now the Disney/Marvel juggernaut has the will and the capital to push towards an Avengers film and they need Thor, so through some stroke of strange creative and financial synergy, we have Kenneth Branagh’s THOR. Those three words sort of blow my mind.
I loved a lot about the Thor. Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston is nearly perfect. Chris Hemsworth makes a good God of Thunder, at least if you are looking for the Ultimate version of the character dressed up in something like the original Thor’s costume. Heimdall is great as the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge and all of the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff is fun but maybe a bit of a sidetrack. The Frost Giants, though not as big as I would have imagined, actually look pretty scary with their blood-red eyes and ice weapons. All of the humor even works, and that surprised me. The trailers made the movie look goofy, and while the Thor comics are no strangers to goofy, I didn’t want the comedy to bring the film down. It doesn’t. In fact it helps to add some energy in spots where there isn’t much.
Thor is another superhero origin story but one with a slightly different spin. Since Thor already has his powers as a God of Asgard and son of Odin, there’s no need to explain how he got them. Instead, Odin strips Thor of his powers for being an arrogant prick and the middle of the film is spent watching the hero try to do something worthy of the King of Asgard. It’s a theme right out of the comics, but it gets a little tedious. The same idea was handled with much more humanity in Superman 2.
The film switches between following the Earthly exploits of a depowered Thor and the Asgardian shenanigans of Loki as he moves pieces around to get what he wants. Only, without some background in the comics, I’m not sure that Loki’s motivations are all that clear until the film’s final minutes. This is where the comics tend to excel beyond their film adaptations. In almost any Thor book where Loki figures you will find a panel or two where Loki is scheming and maybe even letting slip some of his plan. In the movie version of Thor, Loki always seems a little dark and a little off but is he trying to win Odin’s love, or steal the throne, or show up his brother? There’s a bit at the end where he explains it, but the film could have spent more time with Loki and less with the useless Warriors Three so that we’d care.
I think that the biggest challenge with bringing Thor to the screen has nothing to do with the sets or designs or effects–it has to do with the fact that the story of Thor is really the story of Loki. Thor is the golden child, the perfect warrior, the favorite son, and the nearly invincible God of Thunder. Like Superman, he’s a little boring because nothing really hurts him and he swooshes around with his red cape and saves the day. But what makes the comics interesting is the dynamic that Thor has with his brother who is weak, put-upon, different, and who ultimately becomes one of the greatest villains in the Marvel universe simply because he is living in Thor’s shadow. That stuff in The Lord of the Rings with Boromir and Faramir and the father with a most favorite son–THAT’S what the Thor and Loki story is about. Why couldn’t we have seen more of that here?
This is where the financial and creative energies behind a giant film like this fight one another, and it doesn’t take Heimdall’s all-seeing eyes to know which is going to win. After all, these films exist to make money for Marvel, to sell toys and Dr. Pepper and to push the company toward even bigger and more profitable pictures in the future. Thor is actually a pretty small story. It’s not ripped from cross-realm epics like so many of the great Thor comics. It’s a character piece but it gets a little lost when it has to deliver action and fantasy and characters destined for the toy shelves. Without Thor’s mother, Sif, the Warriors Three, and some of the Earthly non-adventure, the film could have lingered a while on the tension between Loki and Thor. They are brothers, they love each other, and yet they are opposite sides of a coin. There are tons of recent Thor comics that do a great job of wringing the pathos out of that relationship, but in the film, there’s not enough time to see that bond to care what happens to it in the end.
I’m a lifelong Thor fan and at the end of this film I didn’t jump up an applaud or get teary or feel excited about his further adventures, and that’s a problem. Thor is a tough property to do as a summer blockbuster but it’s not impossible. Branagh has so many of the right ingredients here and he hits some very specific notes with grace, but he never quite goes for the gut punch that the story of Thor and Loki requires.
I enjoyed the film on the whole. The Destroyer was awesome, the Rainbow Bridge was well-done, the scope of where this story could go was laid out, and there were enough moments faithful to the comics to keep me smiling. The 3D was fine but not all that helpful. But Thor definitely feels like a prelude to the Avengers which is kind of exciting and disappointing all at once. I wanted to see something with a little more depth–not grim and gritty Thor, but just something that worked on the emotional level.