In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2011’s Thor.
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way at the top of the review: “More like MCU Review: Part Thor, am I right?”
As the fourth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor follows Iron Man 2‘s lead in helping flesh out some aspects of S.H.I.E.L.D. while also exploring its main character’s own mythology. While Jon Favreau‘s Iron Man 2 faltered as it struggled through this juggling act, Kenneth Branagh managed to deliver a more balanced movie in Thor.
Thor is a more coherent story than Iron Man 2, with a villain whose motivations are made clear and sustained throughout the film. Chris Hemsworth brings a strong physical presence to the title role while handling the “fish out of water” aspect of the story with surprisingly well timed comedic delivery. Despite this, Thor still has its fair share of issues.
Mimicking the opening sequence of Iron Man, the movie opens with scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), and research assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) as they accidentally come into contact with Thor. Following this opening scene, the movie shifts to Asgard where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) provides a condensed history of the gods via voice over narration.
The juxtaposition of Thor’s appearance on Earth with a cut to an exposition dump is jarring at best. What made this style of introducing the main character and then delivering exposition through a flashback before returning to the plot so effective in Iron Man was the dialogue. In Iron Man we immediately know what kind of man Tony Stark is but in Thor, we have none of that. Showing us the result of Thor’s banishment from Asgard through the perspective of Jane and her friends didn’t pique my curiosity for Thor’s mythology. It just left me unprepared for the half hour or so of exposition that followed.
The Asgard sequence itself was a good vessel for backstory though, if a little too long. We’re introduced to the Frost Giants and the hierarchy of Odin’s kingdom as well as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his jealousy. Once Thor is banished, however, we’re transported back to Earth with him and given more introductions and more establishing of character dynamics. It’s jarring, again, and the movie would have benefited from being more economic in its storytelling by either cutting that opening tease or delivering snippets of Thor’s backstory and banishment through flashbacks interspersed throughout the movie.
I said that Branagh directed a more balanced movie in Thor than Favreau did with Iron Man 2. That’s true, however, it really only applies to how the movie reconciles Thor’s storyline with the MCU’s further development of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the greater universe in general. When it comes to telling its central story, Thor struggles with pacing throughout its runtime.
There are long stretches without action that lead to a climactic battle with a Destroyer on Earth. The battle itself is entertaining as a piece of action. But the stakes feel relatively low and, once it’s finished, the movie has a secondary climax in Asgard. Without being truly invested in and patient with the movie, its characters or the story, Thor doesn’t give the audience much to stave off boredom.
There’s also a poorly developed love story between Thor and Jane. The circumstances of their romance feel extraordinarily forced and the subplot itself feels tacked on. It exists because the plot requires it, but there’s no substance to it. There’s a healthy amount of comic relief that helps make the Earth sequences more entertaining. But ultimately Thor’s adventures on Earth feel hollow.
Branagh made a stylistic choice in a multitude of scenes. Several scenes are shot from skewed angles, giving Thor more of an artistic, comic book panel feel. Branagh goes a little overboard with this; so much that it becomes distracting even before the halfway point of the movie. It’s not quite on the “JJ Abrams lens flare” level of distracting, but it is worth noting.
Overall, Thor presents its story within the context of the MCU well. The storytelling itself, however, is unfulfilling and told somewhat sloppily. As a piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor works and is a passable entry in the franchise. As a standalone movie though, it’s underwhelming.
Buy Digitally – These movies are worth owning but don’t necessarily need to take up space on your shelf or garner a trip to your favorite DVD/Blu-Ray shop.
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