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Matthew Hoemke

Thor (2011)

Rating: **** out of 4

"You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy! … Thor Odinson…you have betrayed the express command for your king. Through your arrogance and stupidity, you’ve opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war! You are unworthy of these realms, you’re unworthy of your title, you’re unworthy…of the loved ones you have betrayed! I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!” – Odin

“Your ancestors called it magic…but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” – Thor

“Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to do this, I am truly sorry. But these people are innocent, taking their lives will gain you nothing. So take mine, and end this.” – Thor

“Legends tell us one thing; history, another. But, every now and then we find something that belongs to both.”– Nick Fury

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings.

Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (with Matthew Vaughn uncredited).

Director: Kenneth Branagh (and Joss Whedon uncredited)

In a tight close-up Odin whispers into Mjolnir; “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of THOR!” Odin then hurtles the hammer through the cosmos and thus initiates audiences to the mythological tones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a tone that many find off putting for whatever reason, yet a tone that cements my adoration of this screen universe. I love that you can have the relatively grounded Iron Man or Captain America franchises while also having a film with a hero from another plane of existence who fits splendidly with the archetypal hero’s journey.

Director Kenneth Branagh worked hard to craft an atypical superhero film that acted as a love letter to the characters Marvel and Norse origins while also firmly embracing the wild notion that so spectacular a being could exist (not to mention the world he comes from), and all the while deliver a movie that captures a really wonderful and complex relationship between brothers who vie to earn their father’s love. It’s like Shakespeare with superheroes.

The film follows Thor, rightful heir to the throne of Asgard. After inciting an ancient conflict with the Frost Giants, Odin fears that his son is not ready to assume the mantle of King and banishes him to Midgard (Earth) where he will live out his life in exile for bringing war to peaceful times. On Earth, Thor is discovered by a team of scientists led by Jane Foster who immediately strikes an attraction to this Godlike man. Her colleague Dr. Selvig, has some trepidations in believing that this brutish man may in fact be the Thor of Norse legend. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Odin has fallen deathly ill and his other son; the mischievous Loki, has assumed the role of King and cooks up a plot that will win his father’s affection. Once Thor gets word of Loki’s betrayal, the two duke it out in a small town in Nevada before ending with a harrowing climax in the Bifrost.

While following in the structural footsteps of Iron Man, Thor really manages to maintain the beat of its own drum, but even with this early installment do we get the first signs of the plague that will ultimately harm the Thor franchise. You see, the movie is really broken into two films; 1) All things Asgard and 2) Thor on Midgard. It is a little less noticeable in this film, as it is designed to introduce you to these two worlds, but this separation will be the biggest obstacle the films will have to overcome. As of this film, the division works because all the stuff on Asgard is so fresh. Never have we been privy to a world that looks like Asgard. The characters are larger than life and draw from Norse Myth while also having that Lord of the Rings quality, but never played as anything but truthful. They are not hokey or unbelievable. This was a huge feat. Aesthetically, Asgard is gorgeous and thrilling to the eye. Even the Rainbow Bridge, which could have been a disaster, inspires awe. All of this is juxtaposed with scenes set in Nevada. The somewhat bland view of Midgard really kind of works and how Thor learns to interact with humans is fun and engaging. Kat Dennings’s Darcy acts as the voice of the audience and really sells how we should feel about this character.

Even the stuff with S.H.E.I.L.D. works better here than it did in Iron Man 2 but that is because Branagh had spent an hour tearing this character down before allowing Thor to reclaim his hammer and when it doesn’t happen, we, as audience members, are taken aback and follow Agent Coulson’s viewpoint. He, like we, know that there is more to Thor than being that of a simple man. Once the conflict between the brothers fully emerges, we are dead set on seeing who will rightfully claim the throne.

What really gels with the Thor/Loki plot thread is that Thor is not painted as an altruistic hero. He is often throughout the film portrayed as being greedy, prideful and rife with conventional sin, while Loki is painted as a relatively sympathetic character. Certainly, more so than either his comic book or Norse origins suggest. This makes for a more complex relationship than a simple battle for the throne and makes for a more interesting movie. It also helps that both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are dynamite as Thor and Loki.

Can you think of anyone better for these roles? I sure can’t. They fully embody the characters. Hemsworth is a joy to watch, with excellent comedic timing, a fabulous aura of traditional heroism, but also finding that note of humanity that makes him relatable. Hiddleston is simply perfection. He brings a lot of pathos to a character that could have had none and serves as the MCU’s one truly well executed villain.

Comic books can be viewed as modern mythology and this film is a pure example of that. A well-groomed morality play about the relationship of family wherein the heroes aren’t purely good and the villains are not one note evil bastards. The fact that the film simultaneously takes itself seriously, but is also willing to laugh at the absurdity of these types of hero myths is what really soars. And it plays even better in hindsight because the somewhat lackluster final battle in the small-scale Nevada desert feels almost refreshing compared to the complete city destruction of later films in the MCU, X-MenU or DCEU. It shows that you can go big, while staying small if you have characters weighty enough to make it work.

A note on this entry into the MCU : An interesting thing to view is that the events of this film are what lead to everything else. It is Thor’s arrival on Earth that drives S.H.I.E.L.D. to finally prepare the Avenger Initiative. It is Loki’s downfall at the hands of Thor that leads him to an alliance with Thanos which leads them to send an army to Earth where the Avengers are born. Odin’s line; “Through your arrogance and stupidity, you’ve opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war!” really rings true as all that would come after would be brought about because Thor and Loki sought battle with the Frost Giants.

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