Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 27th April 2011
MCU Phase: One
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba
May contain spoilers.
This whole project was designed as a challenge for the cynic in me. Thor was the most interesting challenge yet. At first I moderately enjoyed the film; then it kicked into gear a bit and slapped a smile on my face; then I became irritated by the film and was ready to write it off; and then, right at the end, I think Thor won me over again. It has quite a traditional feel – perhaps the influence of Shakespearean legend Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair – that both holds it back and gives it a sweeping romantic glow.
There are three main elements driving the plot: Thor’s relationship with his brother Loki, and the latter’s quest for a place on the throne of Asgard; the bond between Thor and human scientist Jane Foster, who finds him both theoretically and romantically interesting; and Thor’s own redemption arc as he tries to become a worthy holder of the iconic hammer Mjölnir after being banished from Asgard for his arrogance and recklessness.
The last of these, which should anchor the film, is the weakest strand. It is frustratingly inert and predictable. When Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) casts out his son and his hammer too, it is clear that the basic plot of the next hour or so will be Thor learning his lesson and becoming a better person on Earth, eventually reclaiming his hammer in a big climactic battle. All of these things happen in just the manner you expect. There is no unique texture or complication to the storyline, making it feel a bit dull.
The romantic subplot has a similar problem. As soon as Jane Foster lays eyes on Thor you know what’s going to happen. Crucially, the film does not spend enough time growing their relationship for it to feel wholly authentic, and therefore properly romantic. However – and this is where the cynic in me begins to crumble – there is a believable chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth that makes the whole thing far more enjoyable. Portman, in particular, breathes life into her character beyond what is a quite thinly-drawn role on paper. And in the end, I must admit, the romantic in me won out and allowed me a little swoon.
The final, and by far the most engaging, part of Thor is Loki, the conniving younger brother of our hero. In him, the film has real personality and intrigue. He is not only a more captivating character than those around him, but is brought to life fantastically by Tom Hiddleston. Despite these strengths, Loki is a prime example of where the film and me, lost me, and then won me back again. In him I thought we had a great three-dimensional ‘villain who’s not really a villain’ (a particular love of mine). Then the film seems to cop out a bit and turns Loki into a more simple ‘evil’ character; but in the final scenes nuance returns and his eventual fate is both well-judged and well-played.
Overall, Thor is a solid entry into the MCU that performs its role of introducing new core players pretty well. It also folds in some nice references to Tony Stark and gamma radiation and, like Iron Man 2, makes Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. a convincing part of the story.
The most exciting post-credits snippet yet, as Nick Fury shows Jane Foster’s physicist mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) a mysterious, glowing source of both literal and figurative power. Then Loki appears, not dead, but set to cause more mischief in future films. How exciting.
Where it Ranks
It’s an interesting one this. The film certainly sits somewhere between Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. There is nothing especially praiseworthy about Thor, but like all the other films so far it has a good pace to it, and the performances are strong. It elegantly grows the role of S.H.I.E.L.D., too, without hammering home the ‘Avengers Initiative’ stuff. Yet I just had a bit more fun with Iron Man 2, which offered more invention and ideas than this.
- Iron Man
- Iron Man 2
- The Incredible Hulk