Marvel Studios first gave us a lusty, snarky billionaire who wears a flying suit of armor. Then they presented a nerdy scientist you never, just never, want to get angry, because he turns into a Monster of Mass Destruction. Now the comic book folks go into the next dimension, literally, and give us a superhero god in Thor.
Following the template laid down in 1962 when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber introduced the character, Thor follows the exploits of the extra-planetary being who, with his compatriots, inspired our ancient ancestors’ belief in the pantheon of god-warriors who reside in Asgard at the end of the rainbow bridge which connects our worlds.
Thor (Star Trek’s Chris Hemsworth) is the headstrong son of Odin, the leader of the gods (Anthony Hopkins) who thinks with his mighty hammer Mjollnir, instead of his head. The Asgardians and their eternal enemy the Frost Giants have had a truce for much of our Earth’s civilized existence, but the Giants make an attempt to steal a powerful object back from Odin’s people. For that brazen maneuver, Thor wants to wipe them out, and going against Odin’s express orders, the cocky warrior leads a team including his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Jotunheim, the world of the Frost Giants.
They quickly get in over their heads and Odin beams into save their armored hides. For his temerity, Odin banishes Thor to Earth to learn some lessons – after all, he can’t let a hot-head succeed him to the throne. It’s on Earth that the movie seriously slows down. Thor not only has to learn his lesson and get back in time to save Asgard, but he has a limp love story with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a cute physicist who is studying the effects of the bridge that gets Thor and others to earth (she calls it an Einstein-Rosen bridge, Thor sez it's “Bifrost, the rainbow bridge”). He also runs afoul of S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy government agency with the tongue twister of a full name.
The movie even takes the time to introduce Clint Barton/Hawkeye the super archer who will appear in The Avengers movie in what is perhaps the stupidest cameo ever committed to film. The appearance is so forced you have to be an Avengers comic book fan to even get it. To the casual viewer, you’re left wondering why some dude with a bow and arrow WHICH HE NEVER USES BTW shows up for 30 seconds. If he used his arrows to pin Thor to the wall, that would have been a decent move, instead he just sits in a crane bucket in the rain, not firing a single arrow. Compare that to Scarlett Johansson's memorable kick butt scenes as super agent the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 (she's also to appear in the Avengers).
Thor is not a terrible comic book movie by any means, Elektra and Catwoman get to safely keep that trophy between them, but it is so jam-packed with story, credited to five writers, that it needs more than its just-under-2-hour runtime to properly cover it all. All the pieces are put in place: the cast is uniformly good under the direction of Kenneth Branagh (which is probably why the Asgard scenes are the most fun with their kings, young princes and palace intrigue), the special effects are top notch (Thor swinging his hammer just as Jack Kirby drew it over 40 years ago brought a smile to my face). But Thor isn’t given a true journey of redemption as he should have been. He’s simply on earth for a few days and comes to the conclusion he’s been a bit of a dick, without actually having to DO anything to get to that life changing point. Loki’s character was also short changed – we don’t know WHY he would turn on Thor and Odin, especially if they’ve shown him nothing but love his whole life (does he just have an inferiority complex?). Being evil is never enough, unless you’re Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and Hiddleston shows some real spark as Loki.
This particular story with the god/fish out of water could have also used much more humor. When you run over a 6'5" ripped dude in the New Mexico desert with your truck and he claims to be the Norse god of thunder, he's either bug nuts insane...or he's not. Kat Dennings was the official comic relief in the earthbound scenes, but this story would have seriously benefited from more laughs, a la Iron Man 1.
The movie proclaims that Thor will return in The Avengers. I’m up for that, but let’s hope that writer and director Joss Whedon is better at juggling his Ocean’s Eleven-type superhero story and character demands.