Thor is an arrogant god*, interested only in his own glory and defeating his enemies. After Thor almost re-ignites an ancient war with the ice giants, Thor’s dad Odin strips him of his powers and banishes him to Earth, the naughty step of the Gods. Thor and his hammer Moljnir crash land on Earth conveniently near to a scientific research team investigating atmospheric anomalies in the middle of nowhere.
*Although Thor, Odin etc don’t actually consider themselves gods, I’ll use the term here because I can’t think of a better one!
At the beginning of the film we are introduced to Odin and his war with the ice giants in Ye Olden Times. Unfortunately, this section of the film is so FX heavy that it is often utterly impossible to see more than a fraction of what is going on. Shiny things fly across the screen at great speed and the camera swoops gracefully around battlefields but there is so much motion blur I have no idea whether I’m watching an ice giant or Asgardian most of the time and it could be a battle scene from any epic fantasy movie of the last 2 decades. However, it is really only a back story montage to introduce the main plot of the film and explain why Odin wears an eye patch. It manages to get across a potted history so that you have some idea of who is who as the story progresses.
We are then introduced to Thor and his brother Loki and their friends Volstagg, Hogun, Fandral and Sif. These last four characters are quite interesting and play a significant part in the action of the first part of the film. For most of the middle of the film though they are either entirely absent or relegated to the background making their sudden return to the action in the finale somewhat jarring. None of them get much development and some don’t even get fleshed out to the level of stereotypical sketches. I can’t help but hope that they will return and get a bit more depth in later instalments.
There are some fun and funny parts where Thor is confused about the way that life works on Earth and also by the fact that he is now just a “normal” man. Thor adapts to being on Earth pretty quickly though, after all it is not his first time in another world and probably not his first time on Earth either. Of course being without his powers and hammer is a lot more difficult and Thor has to learn a lesson and lose his arrogance in order to regain his power and retake his rightful place.
Thor’s change from arrogant God to humble Protector of Mankind is sudden and somewhat inexplicable. Essentially he meets a girl called Jane in the desert who is nice to him and he reconfigures his entire personality. I guess it helps that the girl in question is Natalie Portman but I expect that the God Thor, Son of Odin Allfather would be a little less impressed with that than I would.
Portman isn’t really given much to do here. She spouts a lot of unconvincing science babble and drives around in storms glaring intently at complicated looking instruments to let us know that her character is a Scientist. Then she literally runs into Thor and is instantly smitten with his, er, charms. For the rest of the film she follows him around helping him out and gazing at him. She is allowed to be a bit more take-charge than a standard supporting female character, especially one who is so obviously in love with the male lead, and is at least spared the indignity of being made into a damsel for Thor to rescue. Like Thor’s companions, perhaps she will get a better outing in future instalments.
Chris Hemsworth isn’t called on to do much in his portrayal of Thor either. He has to look angry when he is fighting and he has to look confused when he isn’t fighting and he has to look good with his shirt off and that is about it. There are a few scenes with Jane and with Erik where he gets to act a bit more human which are nice to see and bring a bit more depth to the character but they are quite a small part of this film.
Thor’s brother Loki is an interesting character and well played by Tom Hiddleston. Loki is a mischievous God and is often portrayed in stories as not taking anyone’s side but rather acting out of a desire to make things more interesting. Whether he is helping you or hindering you doesn’t necessarily indicate whether he supports your cause or not. It might just be that he thinks the outcome will be more interesting if your cause is (un)successful. There is an element of that playfulness in his character in this film, especially at the beginning. However, partly because of events in the main story which I won’t give away, his motivations here are often portrayed as more straightforward; greed, jealousy and revenge.
Hiddleston manages to play Loki with the right amount of English gentleman charm with a sinister edge them moves from creepy at the beginning of the film to being increasingly menacing as details of his history and the true nature of his plans are revealed. Interestingly, Loki’s history is revealed to Loki himself at the same time as it is revealed to the viewers allowing us to feel more empathy with his character. He is by far the most interesting character in this film and it is a shame that he wasn’t afforded a little more depth in his motivations.
Some other supporting characters are worth a quick mention. Jane’s intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) is a brilliantly sarcastic woman with a sharp tongue and a fondness for tasering Gods into submission. Dr Erik Selvig is brilliantly played by Stellan Skarsgård and provides a good more mature balance to the youthful exuberance of Jane and Darcy. Having been raised with the traditional Norse tales though he is drawn to Thor and soon gets over his scepticism.
Asgard is depicted in an interesting way in this film. It is obviously a place where magic is common and there are many fantastical things like floating buildings and bridges made out of solidified light. However, most things have a distinctly mechanical and scientific feel, there are lots of cogs and wheels and other things that a human could guess at the purpose of alongside more exotic and fantastical things. Both Thor and Jane make statements during the film to the effect that science and magic are the same thing and what you call science and what you call magic depends on your level of understanding. It is nice to see this idea solidified in the physical structure of Asgard.
This film follows on directly from the events in Iron Man 2; Agent Coulson leaves Stark before the end of Iron Man 2 to drive to the impact site of Thor’s hammer. So, probably for the first time in this project 2 films have followed on from each other almost seamlessly.
A bit light on the main characters, Thor is a fun film with some pretty scenes. But it doesn’t hold up as well as a stand alone film as Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk do. It feels a little bit like it is introducing a number of characters and concepts that will be required in later films. I think that this film provides the highest number of returning characters to The Avengers than any of the others.