The eagerly anticipated “Thor” triumphantly thundered into theaters nationwide this past weekend with enough heart-stopping action, riveting fight scenes, and dazzling special effects to make it the early leader in the perennial race for best action movie of the summer.
Those who are well versed in comic book history know that Thor was the brainchild of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who added the Norse god with the deadly hammer to the stable of Marvel comics heroes in 1962. Now he joins his Marvel siblings like Iron Man, Spider Man, and The Fantastic Four, with his very own modern feature-length movie, and you can safely bet it won’t be his last one.
The film begins in the celestial kingdom of Asgard presided over by King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who is preparing to turn the crown over to his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth). But all does not go smoothly because on Thor’s coronation day, Asgard is invaded by a group of soldiers from the army of Laufey (Colm Feore), the ruler of the frozen kingdom of Jotunheim and Odin’s archenemy. This mission is in direct violation of a treaty, but Thor is so overzealous in his response to the situation that he enrages Odin, who casts him out of Asgard and sends him and Mjolnir, his famous hammer, hurtling toward Earth.
Thor lands in the New Mexico desert, where Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist, and her small research party are studying strange events in the night sky. Thor is stunned by his fall and rushed to a hospital by while others are left to marvel at the massive crater Mjolnir created when it crashed to the ground.
Now while all of this is happening, things are not going well up in Asgard. Thor’s nasty brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken over the crown after bad health has claimed Odin. Realizing that Loki is up to no good, several of Thor’s friends, led by Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), travel to Earth with the hope of finding Thor and taking him back to Asgard so that he can claim his rightful place as king. But Loki has other ideas for his brother and sends down a monstrous robot to make sure Thor never returns to his homeland.
Under the stellar direction of four-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (“Hamlet”), “Thor” is a highly entertaining film filled with drama, action, romance, and humor. In the film’s production notes, Branagh explained that Thor had been one of his favorite comic book heroes as he was growing up in Belfast.
“It rained a lot in Northern Ireland and could sometimes seem grayish. The color of the Marvel Comics covers would pop out from the bookshelves, and The Mighty Thor was the one I was always drawn to. I liked its primal qualities—the connection to something ancient, the weaponry, the Stonehenge feel of the lettering, and the character’s sheer physical heft. He’s the first in line to fulfill that cliché of never asking anybody else to do what he wouldn’t do himself. In fact, half the time you’ve got to try and stop him from doing something you might never consider.”
Of course anytime a film like “Thor” comes along, the special effects often take center stage, but this picture also features an outstanding cast that includes two Academy Award winners in Hopkins and Portman. With his rich baritone voice Hopkins sounds every bit the part of a king, and he also carries himself with a definite regal bearing. He is predictably superb in the part of Odin.
Portman is quite simply one of the most brilliant actresses in Hollywood. From the time she appeared in “Beautiful Girls” when she was only 15, the stunning 30-year-old actress has consistently exhibited amazing poise and maturity in front of the camera, and she also has demonstrated an incredible range that allows her to play any number of diverse roles. She scores again in this film with her spot-on portrayal of a scientist who suddenly finds herself developing strong feelings for a strange being that fell out of the sky. In the production notes, Portman offered some interesting insight into her character.
Jane is very focused on her research. She’s probably on the fringe of astrophysics because she believes in things that a lot of her colleagues might find nutty. His arrival seems to demonstrate things she supposes to be true. At first, Jane thinks of Thor as a study subject. Apart from her own research team, he’s the only witness to this extraordinary event they’ve observed in the night sky over the New Mexico plains, so he’s important to her work. Slowly, she starts to relate to him and, well, her emotions start to get the better of her—then she faces that ever-present challenge for any scientist or academic involved in research—remaining objective.”
And Hemsworth’s rugged handsomeness and ripped physique make an absolute natural for the part of Thor. This guy definitely looks the part of Norse god, and he plays the role with enthusiastic relish. Of course Hemsworth’s part calls for plenty action sequences in which he has the opportunity to fly around brandishing his lethal hammer, but there also is a tender side to his character, and in the production notes, the actor said that these were some of his favorite scenes.
“’Thor’ is full of big moments, some huge action and pyrotechnics, but some of my favorites are the sequences between Thor and Jane – normal, everyday conversations. We shot those scenes in New Mexico, with a beautiful backdrop of mountains. Now, we had to wait until the snow melted, but it created a beautiful environment. These were the scenes where the character research, the books on looking at existence and coming into your own, paid off. And getting to play these with Natalie…well, sort of dream time for me.”
In addition the outstanding acting, “Thor” offers incredible sets for the scenes in Asgard, and the special effects in the action scenes are nothing short of spectacular. The gigantic robot that Loki sends to Earth to destroy Thor is absolutely awesome. I always considered Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to be the king of robots, but this thing makes poor Gort look as if he belongs in Storybook Forest
“Thor” (It gets an eight.) is a film that is just plain fun, and it should have something in it to please just about everyone. If you ask me whether or not there will be a sequel, I would say it’s a no brainer. But perhaps you should ask Thor. After all, I wouldn’t want to steal his thunder.