Superhero movie projects attract directors who like to destroy stuff. Guys like Sam Raimi, who directed the Evil Dead movies, and Brett Ratner, who did Rush Hour. They do not attract former members of the Royal Shakespeare Company who continually direct themselves in adaptations of the bard’s greatest plays. Except, apparently, if they’re Thor. When I heard Kenneth Branagh was set to direct this latest comic book movie, I was floored. However, when you look at the logline for Thor, you can totally see why he would be interested.
Thor, the son of an alien king who inspired the Norse myths, is banished to Earth for his arrogance and must earn his powers back before his trickster brother starts a war and steals the throne.
Except for the alien part, it sounds very Shakespearian, doesn’t it? Branagh himself has even compared Thor to Henry V in interviews. It’s a very intriguing take on Thor. The question is: can Kenneth Branagh, with his lack of action movie experience, make a comic book film that would fit into the Avengers line of movies? Incredible Hulk and Iron Man both had an irreverent tone that sat really well with me. I wondered: could Shakespeare-Thor possibly manage this? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is an action movie that’s part Shakespearian space drama and part fish out of water comedy. I hadn’t thought such a thing was possible, but I was wrong. My only complaint about Thor was that these two parts were held a little too far apart from one another. The parts of the movie that take place in Asgard, Thor’s homeworld, are almost completely devoid of jokes and are rife with palace intrigue, which is mostly caused by Thor’s jealous, manipulative younger brother.
Hey Thor, you know what would be a REALLY bad idea? Starting a war with the Frost Giants!
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is overeager, bloodthirsty, arrogant, and a little bit clueless, does indeed start a war with their arch enemy, the Frost Giants (yes, that really is their name) and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) kicks him out of the kingdom for it.
Thor, you are grounded from this hammer for a week! No – a month!
Once Thor is gone, Odin promptly slips into a coma, leaving his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to play Asgard and the Frost Giants off against one another for his own personal satisfaction, and his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) to be all weepy.
If you need me, I’ll be here. Being weepy.
By contrast, the parts of the movie that take place on Earth are hilarious and clever. Astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is described on the promo posters as a “woman of science,” her colleague Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and her research assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) find him out in the New Mexico desert while they’re looking for Einstein-Rosen bridges (wormholes), which just happen to be the thing that Thor’s people use to get around. He’s babbling about a bifrost and something called myeh-myeh (Mjolnir, his hammer) and they think he’s nuts, especially Darcy, who is tied with Thor, Jane, and Erik for funniest person in the movie.
THOR: Where is Mjolnir? Open the bifrost!
JANE: Where the hell did he come from?
DARCY: And what’s myeh-myeh?
They accidentally run him over in the confusion and end up having to take him with them, and from then on the names of the scenes of Thor’s hilarious introduction to different aspects of Earthling life could be the titles of children’s books. Thor Gets Tasered, Thor Goes to the Hospital, Thor Goes to the Coffee Shop.
THOR: This drink! I like it! Another! *smash*
Thor also goes to the pet shop, the bar, and a secret government facility. And if they’d kept going with that theme, through Thor Goes to the Zoo, Thor Goes to School, Thor Shops For Clothes, and Thor Gets an Oil Change, I would have been happy as a clam, because I could watch them forever. These parts were as funny as Iron Man and just as clever. They were also really sweet, because arrogant Thor (who was still charming even when he was being an idiot) gradually learns to put other people before himself and to be noble and brave and all that in a quiet way. Mostly thanks to Jane, whom he shares lots of bonding time with.
THOR: I like it much better when you’re not running me over.
JANE: Me too.
Thor does like his new friends in his own way, but his main objective is to get his hammer back. It’s stuck in the ground Excalibur-style and can only be pulled out by someone worthy. Plus it’s surrounded by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and those guys from S.H.I.E.L.D who keep showing up everywhere and making clean-room towns around crashed objects.
I guess their last gig was on the X-Files.
Thor’s clashes with the government make an alter ego necessary, because the whole alien-who-inspired Norse mythology thing never really goes over well. He ends up using the name (and the clothes) of Jane’s ex-boyfriend, and Dr. Donald Blake is born… again. Because the old one must still be floating around out there somewhere. Myeh-myeh the magic hammer teaches Thor a lesson in humility, and he actually does start to make a life for himself on Earth.
These aren’t tears. It’s just raining. I swear.
But of course Thor’s family drama manages to bleed through onto Earth, leading to huge battles with giant metal men (who are not Iron Man, but something else) and eventually to the final showdown between the brothers. The battles were pretty epic, with lots of slo-mo hammer-chuckings and magic lightning flying everywhere, but after a few minutes I found myself thinking: “Okay, that’s enough. Time for someone to hit Thor with a car again so we can go back to the funny parts.”
Thor’s hammer does make a hilarious hollow BONG noise when it hits things though.
Because all of the Asgard stuff takes place in space and involves futuristic magic-science there are a LOT of special effects. Thankfully they resisted the temptation to make the bifrost, which in Norse mythology and the Thor comics is a bridge made out of rainbows, look like something out of the Care Bears.
Instead, it’s a giant spike that makes lightning you can ride.
The ending is a blatant setup for a sequel, which may or may not be the Avengers movie (there are entries for Thor 2 on some websites), and if you want to stick around through the credit sequence, which looks like it was lifted from the IMAX documentary on the universe, there’s a little piece at the end which ties it to something else, I’m just not sure what. And although I could have used more Earth fun, Thor is a great movie. The actors are all fabulous, it’s funny, actiony, and romantic.
You’re kissing her HAND? Really?
That’s more like it.
So yes, you should definitely go see it, even if you don’t normally like action or comic book movies. Sit through the credits all the way to the end. Maybe you’ll have better luck figuring out what that last bit means than I did. I look forward to Thor 2 (if there’s going to be one) and The Avengers, which should both be coming out next year if the internets are to be believed.