Posted on 5/15/11 01:44 PM
Thor achieves a level of competence in its execution that can surprise someone going with no expectations one way or another. Having had read no reviews beforehand, we went anticipating another Punisher or Ghost Rider. Instead, we were treated to a seriously entertaining movie that never stops entertaining, not even when the hero loses all his powers and enters a more "casual" role.
Part of the reason it works as a film is that the script feels like part of something greater to begin with. As ridiculous as the initial premise of Asgard and the god of lightning goes, it manages to connect it into a universe where it becomes very much acceptable. There is clear connection here to the rest of the Marvel universe, from SHIELD, to the scientific inquiries mentioned, to energy sources, to, well, Stark Industries and the upcoming Avengers.
The cast feels fresh, and execute their roles well, even if nothing like Downey's performances in the Iron Man franchises jumps at you. Chris Hemsworth is delightful, and manages to pull both the heroics of his Asgardian self and the entirely out-of-place viking-like figure in the midst of a small New Mexico town. His nemesis, Loki, is played to surprising satisfaction by Tom Hiddlestone (though the mythological Loki is mostly about simple mischief, in the Marvel universe he does take a more sinister tone, something captured well). In this case, Natalie Portman, playing the love interest of our hero, manages to stay low-key and inconsequential enough (considering her present super-star status) that she only aids in the delivery of the script. But outshining them is Kat Dennings, who plays an inconsequential scientist ("political scientist!"), but her secondary role is, simply, hilarious. The performances are funny and clever, they never stray too deep into drama and seriousness (despite Anthony Hopkin's unnecessary presence as Odin).
In fact, this is the real crown of the recent Marvel offerings, the sense of humor and self-mockery, which contrasts so well with the offerings of DC (failures and successes--Superman and Batman). The movies do not forget that they are, after all, based on comics. And, this, Thor nails. The ridiculousness of the premise is rendered humorously, to good effect. Kenneth Branagh is able to show us the gods for all their glory, and yet have someone run them over with a car or paralyzed with a taser gun to incredible effect.
And while comic in approach, Thor also contains take-away depth. The issues of ego in this movie are divinely examined. Loki's seemingly sacrificial self at the beginning is revealed in the end to be anything but, whereas Thor's initial arrogance ultimately is revealed to be sacrificial in nature. It may be exactly what one expects to happen from the beginning of the film. Indeed, it may be mere archetypes playing out. But they are gods, so why should they not embody archetypes?