Compared to all of the superheroes in the Marvel universe, Thor has an uphill battle when it comes to connecting with an audience. Almost everyone has at least heard of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men. Thor? Depending on how you look at it, the legendary Norse deity and his fellow Asgardians are either gods…or aliens beings worshiped by the ancient Vikings as gods. It’s a lot bigger pill to swallow than Tony Stark building himself a high-tech robo-suit to cruise around in, not to mention the fact that Iron Man has Robert Downey Jr.’s famous smirk behind it.
Luckily for the executives over at Paramount, Thor manages to introduce the comic mythology to the average moviegoer in a way that feels fresh and fun, rather than just plan silly. And believe me, the film easily could have gotten extremely silly. Let’s just say at least Tony Stark doesn’t require a rainbow bridge to traverse the universe. Despite the plot being essentially an updated version of The Sword in The Stone, Thor succeeds to due the charisma of devastatingly hunky leading man Chris Hemsworth and the beautiful visual universe created by the CGI professionals over at Marvel Studios. You don’t have to see Thor in 3D, but you certainly wouldn’t regret it if you do.
When the movie begins, Prince Thor is good-looking, powerful, beloved, and did I mention good-looking? The gratuitous shirtless scenes come early and not often enough for Hemsworth. Rumor has it the actor actually got too ripped to fit into his costumes, and it’s an easy rumor to believe. Thor and his band of warriors travel around the nine realms of the universe protecting the name of the beautifully rendered golden city of Asgard. However, once Thor picks a fight with a race of frost giants and threatens the safety of his celestial homeland, papa Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is forced to strip him of his powers and banish him to Earth, along with his magic hammer Mjölnir. You know Thor will eventually be back, but until then, the audience can sit back for some (occasionally topless) fun with Hemsworth as the competent lead.
The other piece of excellent casting in the film was British classical stage actor Tom Hiddleston as villainous Loki. Oh, how this part could have been so over-the-top. As Thor’s wiry, vengeful brother, Loki could have come across like Jim Carrey’s The Riddler with a codpiece. Hiddleston, however, grounds the character in the jealousy of a younger prince doomed to second place for eternity, rather than the free-floating mischievous trickery of the character’s legend. Loki is so excitingly creepy, in fact, you’ll forgive the muddled plot points around his villainy. For example, I wondered if Loki always had it out for Thor, or was his evil-doing a new development? Does Loki actually love Odin despite his apparent power grab in Thor’s absence? What is up with Loki’s drag queen eyebrows? Just as Hemsworth’s Thor is likeable even when clearly acting like a jackass, Hiddleston’s Loki is convincing dark even when you aren’t exactly sure what’s going on under that horned helmet of his.
The part that falls flat in Thor isn’t the furiously paced plot, which has to move a mile a minute to cram in enough information about S.H.I.E.L.D. to prepare us for next year’s The Avengers (stay after the credits for another Nick Fury cameo, and a big hint at what the movie’s plot will look like!). It isn’t even Loki’s eyebrows, which are, in one word, insane. It’s the romantic storyline. Thor’s screenwriters wisely decided to keep Thor’s arrogance out of his relationship with the ladies, particularly physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the scientist who discovers the blond god after he plummets to Earth. In most other films (or movies made before, say, May 2011), Thor might have been written as the charismatic misogynist to Portman’s humorless science nerd. However, seeing as how Jaimie Alexander’s warrior Sif is a full member of Thor’s entourage, the disposed would-be king is fortunately not channeling A.C. Slater-style sexism. Without that template to work from, however, it seems like the screenwriters aren’t really sure why these characters would be into each other, other than the fact that both of them are really, really ridiculously good looking. As it is, Hemsworth smolders while Portman looks worried, and their sexual tension escapes into the atmosphere like smoke from the fifty thousand smashed cars that will soon litter the streets of Foster’s New Mexico town.
On a different note, having seen the film it’s hard to believe that some people had beef with The Wire’s Idris Elba playing Thor’s all-seeing gatekeeper Heimdall; those critics claimed the casting was off because the ancient Norse deity was never depicted as being of African or African-American decent. As if an alternate realm would have Earth’s exact set of racial and gender baggage. People, please. Not only does Elba deliver an excellent performance, but Thor’s entourage also includes Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano as Hogun. Small-minded fan boys are invited to take the rainbow bridge to a whole new cinematic future! We’ve all got sweet body armor over here!
It’s clear early on that Thor will redeem himself in the eyes of his father and be welcomed back to Asgard as its rightful heir. In between his fall from grace and his triumphant transformation into a worthy leader, however, is a film that not only legitimizes a more obscure superhero, but offers proof that Chris Hemsworth could be the next huge action star, if he can stand the 12-hour-a-day workouts and crazed fans ripping off his t-shirts. With nearly all the pieces in place, it’ll be interesting to see if The Avengers can successfully juggle so many established characters, or if we too are going to wish we could whisper to Idris Elba and rocket from the theater back to our apartments.