After three movies set firmly on Earth, Thor dramatically increases the scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in one stroke by taking us to Asgard, and revealing that the “gods” of Norse mythology – Thor, Odin, Loki, etc. – are actually interdimensional beings who came to Earth to do battle with their enemies, the Frost Giants. Kenneth Branagh directs the movie with appropriate grandeur, the most epic moments being truly tingle-inducing – though there is more to the movie than that.
Following some quick backstory on the history of the Asgardians, we are introduced to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is due to succeed his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as the ruler of Asgard. Unfortunately, this is derailed when Thor’s overly arrogant and headstrong nature leads to him bringing Asgard and the Frost Giants to the point of war once more. As punishment, Odin strips him of his powers and his hammer Mjolnir, and banishes him to Earth. Landing in the middle of New Mexico and discovered by a trio of physicists, Thor seeks to return home, unaware that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is plotting to ensure that he never does.
The production design definitely delivers, as it needs to. The majestic realm of Asgard looks wonderfully grand as we first get a look at it; the costumes and sets are an excellent blend between medieval and futuristic. The first action scene – where Thor and his companions do battle with the Frost Giants – is highly thrilling, escalating like a video game battle from ice-wielding grunts to a massive monster, and giving Thor a chance to show off his godly powers. Right from the start, the musical score by Patrick Doyle is also great, ranging from epic to sombre.
When Thor arrives on Earth, the tone changes, with more comedy and a strong ‘fish out of water’ element as he struggles to find his feet among the citizens of Earth. This portion of the film is also used to establish connections with the rest of the universe, including the return of Clark Gregg’s ever-reliable Agent Coulson. Meanwhile, SHIELD agent and archery expert Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) makes a brief and seemingly very random appearance, to foreshadow his more significant role in The Avengers.
As soon as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor appears onscreen (outside of the flash-forward prologue), he is quick to establish the kind of character he is: laughing as a crowd applauds him, casually tossing his hammer, and winking at his mother at what is supposed to be a serious coronation ceremony. His behaviour through the first act – arrogant, hot-headed, more concerned with personal glory than diplomacy – makes it clear how he needs to grow as a character; and despite his flaws, he is so charismatic that it’s easy to root for him as he progresses along his arc.
Then there’s Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, whose first appearance in the MCU firmly establishes him as one of its most memorable villains. Loki’s talent for manipulation is made very clear, and he plays each necessary role so well that it’s hard to judge how honest he’s ever being. We can see his resentment of Thor, but also understand why he argues that he himself is more deserving of favor. Loki can even make you feel bad for him, such as in the scene where he learns his true origins from Odin, and is left feeling understandably betrayed and angry even though his family wanted the best for him.
Anthony Hopkins does a decent job as Odin; and Idris Elba, despite having limited screen-time as Heimdall, makes an impression with his powerful presence. Unfortunately, despite her proven calibre across her acting career, Natalie Portman isn’t given much to work with in the role of Thor’s human love interest, Jane Foster, whose character is as bland as her name; her sidekicks (played by Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) are much more distinct and memorable than she is.
Overall, from the awesomeness of Asgard, to the quality of its hero and villain, the multiple layers of Thor come together to make a film almost as solid as Mjolnir itself.
Edited by: Morgan Stradling