My exposure to Thor has been intermittent, with the exception of Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics, in which I followed Thor along with The Avengers. Unlike other superheroes, who only take inspiration from the gods of ancient myth, Thor is an actual adaptation of Norse mythology into the comic book world. Although never before has that adaptation been cooler or more approachable visually and conceptually.
The premise is that a human-like alien race called The Asgardians live on a distant planet where they wage war with other humanoid races, empowered by amazing technology that by our standards appears to be magic. The Asgardians age very slowly and gave ancient earthlings the impression (intentionally or not) that they were gods.
Now, the arrogant Thor, son of king Odin, has been cast out of Asgard to earth for his reckless actions that threaten Asgard with war. Allegiances become divided among the elite friends and royal family members of the throne, and the conflict plays out, not in court politics, but massive epic fantasy brawls, both on earth and other worlds.
This movie has lots of goodies and subtle nods that comic fans will appreciate, but it’s also very approachable as a fantasy movie for general audiences. Although the costumes make people look a bit like plastic action figures, the action and effects are great and they are held together by a solid story about family, humility and reconciliation.
The cast did a good, though not fantastic job engaging me. Chris Hemsworth is a great Thor, though he lacked that extra bit of charisma that would have sold his arrogance more strongly. Natalie Portman is a fine leading lady, with brief moments of charm that almost lift her character out of “token love interest” status. Anthony Hopkins comes across surprisingly strong as Odin, despite his advancing years.
A major part of the story involves Thor losing his powers for about 40 minutes of the movie. Personally, I hate superhero stories that take away the hero's powers for a significant length of time. I read comics and watch superhero flicks so that I can see those amazing powers in action! But every superhero on screen has a common weakness: Budget. And I can only assume that played a major role in crafting this plot from day one.
Having said that, this story is carried well by its “non-super” elements, even during those 40 minutes of impotence. (And not everyone loses their powers, so there's still great action and visual effects to be had throughout the movie.) The rift between father and son and the rivalry between brothers serves well as the motivating conflict, and I genuinely cared about whether or not Thor and Odin would be able to repair their relationship.
Along with these great themes, there are a few other tidbits that might be worth talking about. The suggestion that God or “gods” might be aliens with advanced technology has been around for awhile. This movie doesn't seem interested in making that claim universal to all religions, but the concept still present and may trigger some pondering. Odin also keeps a dark truth from one of his sons out of a desire to “protect him”. But burying the truth does more harm than good in the end. (A wise principle to remember.)
Still, anything worth pondering or discussing from this movie will likely need to be pulled out with some effort. The central conflict (humility/reconciliation) is a good one, but isn't expressed with any complexity that requires deeper though after the credits roll.
This is a great genre flick with heart that will likely excite comics fans in big ways and treat general audiences to a creative and cool fantasy adventure!
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
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