When I collected comics back in the 1980s, I was a huge Avengers fan, so I’ve been following the build-up to the Avengers movie with considerable interest, even moreso knowing that Joss Whedon is helming the group film. On the other hand, the solo films leading up to it have featured the blander (to me, anyway) “major” Avengers, rather than the quirky side characters that always appealed to me. First it was The Incredible Hulk (2008) with Edward Norton, which was just okay, and then Iron Man (2008), the best so far, with Robert Downey Jr. bringing considerably more flash and charisma to Tony Stark than I ever felt from the books.
Now Thor (2011) gets the revisionist reboot treatment. Does the inhumanly good-looking Chris Hemsworth bring the God of Thunder to life as effectively as Downey Jr. does Iron Man? Not quite, but he’s certainly good, and in fact acting is the strong suit in this otherwise average superhero adventure. In the magical realm of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is on the verge of handing over the kingdom to his favored son Thor (Hemsworth), over brooding second son Loki (Tom Hiddleston). When a terrorist incursion into Asgard occurs, Thor impulsively leads an expedition to the realm of Jotunheim to confront the frost giants thought to be responsible — against the express orders of his father. His actions foment a war, and Thor is cast out of Asgard to Earth, where he becomes a subject of scientific interest for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and a subject of security interest to S.H.I.E.L.D. Robbed of his powers on Earth, Thor seeks to redeem himself and return to Asgard, meanwhile becoming emotionally attached to the mortals who have befriended him.
The plot of Thor is kind of a structural mess. It doesn’t effectively tie together the power struggles between Asgard and Jotunheim with the fish-out-of-water origin story set on Earth. You get the sense that the script is organized to show Thor learning humility through his interactions with the humans, but it doesn’t really come across, nor is there much of a deep romantic connection between Thor and Jane, which seems integral to the film’s strategy. This is through no fault of the actors: Hemsworth is perfectly cast and Portman is terrific. But there’s kind of a disconnect between the Earth story and the Asgard story. I was never a huge Thor fan, and the Asgard business never connected with me back when I was reading the comic books; I felt similarly distanced by it here. The realm is beautifully realized, but I found it difficult to get invested in its plight.
Plot aside, it’s a diverting enough enterprise, carried by excellent acting, comic timing, and typically enjoyable easter-egg hunting for Marvel universe buffs. Stellan Skarsgard and especially Kat Dennings are fun as Jane’s scientific team, and it’s nice to see some of the “minor” immortals of Marvel lore — Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), for example — make an appearance. I found this film’s Avengers cameo particularly exciting; I always did prefer the side characters, and this one is my favorite.
Ultimately, I enjoyed Thor with reservations. I do think the script could have done a better job of selling the character, but fortunately Hemsworth didn’t need that much help, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Whedon handles him in a group dynamic.