At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Thor “2011”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg, Maximiliano Hernández/ Runtime: 114 minutes

I think it is safe to say that, upon revisiting the first Thor film from all the way back in 2011 for the purposes of this review today, it is not the full-blown marvel, pun intended, that some people may have thought it was at that particular time. Indeed make no mistake the film is pretty good, but it is in no way one of Marvel Studios’ finest cinematic outings either. Indeed I feel a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that film helmer, and avid Shakespeare enthusiast/ former Professor Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter, Kenneth Branagh’s time spent in the world of superheroics is magnificent both in its construction and scope, but sadly flat in the other just as crucial areas of storytelling and characterization. Yet be that as it may be, Thor is still a wonderful example of summer popcorn movie fun. By that I mean it’s big, it’s exciting, you don’t have to have seen anything else to know much about these particular characters and their place in the MCU, that would come with later entries, and it also manages to merge together terrific and engaging action with a legit fish-out-of-water brand of humor quite beautifully as well. Yes the overall narrative is a tad bit weaker than I would like and is sometimes lost in the scuffle between the production design, action beats, and flashy style to see which concept is top dog, but the film is still relatively simplistic to follow and helps to make for a potent background for what is, at the end of the day, a well-acted and fast-paced introduction to a world and a set of characters that, until that point in time, audiences had only read about on the printed page of a comic book or played as in such gems as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance….

The plot is as follows: So according to this film’s built-in mythology, in the long-gone year that was 965 A.D., a fierce and terrifyingly powerful group of beings known as the Frost Giants attempted to push mankind to the brink of an early extinction courtesy of a horrific ice age. Not willing to go so quietly however, mankind fought back and, with the timely aid of a group known as the Asgardians with their ruler Odin leading the charge, issued a beat-down on the Frost Giants and in the process brought tranquility back to the universe, but not before bringing something back to Asgard that was crucial to the Frost Giants and their plans. Many, many years later and we see that as Odin is just about to put his son Thor, huh wonder if he’s the guy in the title, to rule over Asgard, the Frost Giants manage to get into Asgard and mercilessly butcher several of her denizens. Enraged and wanting to do more than just sit down and negotiate, Thor, his brother Loki, and a few of Asgard’s finest warriors, without the consent of Odin, head to the land of the Frost Giants to annihilate every last one of them. Yet things soon go awry when the group is both unable to emerge victorious or get a truce out of the Frost Giants, but thankfully they are soon saved before any more carnage can ensue. To say that Odin is not happy about this might be a wee bit of an understatement; in fact downright livid would be more in sync with his emotions at that time. To that end we see Odin, as punishment, strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth alongside his trusty hammer Mjolnir, but with the caveat that it has been cursed so that only a man who is “worthy” can wield it. Thus as Thor attempts to get used to both his new status as a mortal as well as life on Earth he finds himself crossing paths with an astrophysicist by the name of Jane Foster who soon gets to learn and see more than she ever thought possible through this hammer-obsessed Norse-looking individual. However when a group of mysterious government operatives, gee I wonder who, learn about this visitor from another world, Thor finds himself caught up in not only proving himself worthy to wield his trusty hammer again, but also to save both Earth and Asgard from a struggle for power which has the potential to impact the entire universe…

Now the reason that this film manages to succeed is because of a pair of positives that really work overtime in this film’s favor. The first of these would most certainly have to be the downright jaw-droppingly phenomenal mixing of special effects into the film. Effects that when, mixed together with this film’s interpretations of Asgard, Jotunheim, and traveling between the stars, really manages to contribute a grand and even semi-believable setting for the film to not only construct its narrative on, but also to give the audience some terrific hammer meets face and other body parts violence. All of that aside however, this is a movie which works off an innate gorgeousness that is both digital and realistic and everything else involved manages to blend together with it wonderfully to make this film feel more complete. Now thankfully none of this manages to override everything else in the film although they do sometimes butt heads with the quite predictable narrative the film possesses. To that end, I am happy to let you know that this film’s main desire is to just be a fun little cinematic outing and as such nothing serious is lost due to the predictable character arcs and doses of superheroic action moments. Indeed how this story is going to go is not really that much of a surprise thus the various “twists” that exist can be seen coming from a clear 3 miles away. Still as it stands, this film is a wonderful and riveting example of what can best be described as cinema-as-spectacle. I say this because it is not often you see a film assembled, pun intended, this well and detail given such loving and caring attention towards regardless of the fact that the plot is one we’ve all seen a thousand times yet doesn’t carry any pretenses or allude to something crucial that is plain and simply nonexistent. Thus I can safely say that when looking at this film through the prism of just pure fun to be had, then this film truly is a delightful time to be had by all.

Now the second aspect that really helps this film out would have to be the lead turn provided by Chris Hemsworth. Indeed he might not have been known at the time he filmed this, but Hemsworth still manages to give it his all in every scene and also shows he is truly capable of making this multifaceted character work in every way be it the arrogant, thirsty for combat future leader, the mortal warrior who has had his power sapped and who is trying to find who he is again in a world unlike his own, and the powerful and in a sense reborn hero who tries to save no less than a pair of distinct worlds. Indeed Hemsworth manages to show the whole movie that is capable of more than just looking the part. Yes flowing blonde locks, a beard, and being muscular are key to being this particular character, but Hemsworth also manages to show that he can expand beyond just looking like Thor and giving him a personality that actually goes through genuine growth instead of just running through the check list. As for the rest of the cast they all also do strong work even if it’s not on Hemsworth’s level. This starts with iconic acting legend Sir Anthony Hopkins who manages to be a good but playing things quite safe option for the role of Odin. Indeed Hopkins may offer no more and no less than his name and an iconic presence on screen, but he still manages to bring enough heft and talent to play this iconic character plain and simply by putting on the costumes and giving the lines the respect and gravitas they are due. We also get wonderful work from Tom Hiddleston who, in his delightful turn as Loki, really seems to be channeling Alan Cumming from Spy Kids in both the look and style of the character though he still manages to make the role his own. As for the rest of the cast, they all, even the established players like Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård, just to some extent or another feel like little more than filler material than anything. Yes their characters are all important to the narrative in one way or another, but none of them find themselves able to get out of the massive shadows left by the aforementioned trio of players or able to make much of an impact on audiences due to the film’s script feeling like they are there only because the narrative makes them feel like the story would not function as well if they weren’t part of it.

Finally it should also be noted that there is a dilemma consisting of an easy to identify heavy amount of unoriginality coursing through this film’s veins. Indeed this is one film that basically tells audiences to cherish the effects work and the action beats and not stress about the limp narrative, overwhelming amount of secondary characters, and a lot of eerie similarities to other tales set in the Fantasy genre. The reason I bring that up is because in many respects, Thor’s first outing in the MCU a few times feels like a grand overhaul of the movie Masters of the Universe from 1987. I mean the things that this pair have in common are quite startling and not just due to their shared narrative hook of a “muscle-clad, wavy blond-haired hero from another world coming to Earth”. Rather, it is also because this film quite often looks like a version of Masters of the Universe that had been given a bigger budget to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Branagh and his crew actually used that film as inspiration for not only the layout of Asgard, but also for various things from the costumes to props that come up every now and then. Yes, Thor is a significantly more serious cinematic outing than the enjoyably cheesy Masters of the Universe, but there is no denying that this pair have more similarities than the former might want to admit. Way more evident however is this film’s callbacks to the Arthur legend with particular regard to the story involving a “sword in a stone” which deals with no one save for the one who is the worthiest of them all to get an extraordinary and mystical weapon from a place it has been laid to rest in. Finally I know I can’t be the only one to see that the “Destroyer” aka the fire-breathing, metallic weird robot thingy that shows up….at some point in this film….does seem remarkably similar to the entity known as Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Of course, and in all fairness, how much of what I have brought up can be tied back to the comics is something that the avid comic lovers out there amongst you will have to let me know, but as for the casual watcher of this film there really is no denying all the nods towards other source material that may not lessen this film, but does help to strengthen the idea that this film’s narrative was second to the astonishing effects and action moments the film offers audiences.

All in all the first Thor film is engaging enough and entertaining enough, but this most assuredly is not a peak for the superhero film genre. Yes we see that film helmer Kenneth Branagh has decided to focus his efforts more on creating a spectacle over focusing on the film’s narrative and in the case of this film I can say that at the very least I understand why he chose to do this. I say this because this film’s narrative is one that is comprised of both rehashed narrative elements and a degree of indifference from a thematic point of view. Nevertheless this film still manages to function quite well as both an engaging little cinematic adventure, with Chris Hemsworth and the cast really doing great work with their sadly one-dimensional characters, as well as a chance to see some true digital effects magic at play. Suffice it to say then that Thor is a fun time to be had, despite its lack of originality, and it does a wonderful job at setting certain elements in play for the first Avengers film that would come a’calling a year after this film’s initial release back in 2011. On a scale of 1-5 I give Thor “2011” a solid 3.5 out of 5.