In Theaters: Review of Thor

by | May 6th, 2011 | 5:00PM | Filed under: Movies, Theatrical Reviews

Theatrical Review: If our giddy enthusiasm to get out of the winter’s cinematic doldrums makes us love up on the first big summer movie a little more than it deserves, so be it. Luckily Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, based on the Marvel superhero, meets the challenge with plenty of Saturday matinee escapist fun.

We meet our latest costume-clad good guy, Thor (the strapping Chris Hemsworth) in his cosmic homeland of Asgard, a shiny golden otherworld, painted with a dazzling (if by now ho-hum) CGI splendor. There Thor and his pop Odin (Anthony Hopkins, appropriately gruff and growly), brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and pals-in-arms embark on epic quests and feast with Norse abandon.

But heir apparent Thor’s hubris and lust for glory (watch him take out a Frost Monster with one awesome kapow!) runs him afoul of Dad’s rules, and he finds his Nordic butt bounced down to Earth, banished and stripped of his God-of-Thunder powers, pretty red cape, and magic smitin’ hammer in order to learn a lesson in humility.

On Earth the buff and bewildered Thor falls in with cute New Mexico astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman gives the “superhero’s girlfriend” role a lot more charm than usual), her boss Stellan Skarsgård (somebody had to be genuinely Scandinavian here), and her comic-relief assistant Kat Dennings. There follow the usual “god outta water” gags.

Thor’s arrival down here also attracts the attention of the shadowy government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., represented by the always drolly amusing Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). (If you’ve been paying attention in the Iron Man movies, you know S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson, and his boss Nick Fury are the thread that will pull all these heroes, including July’s Captain America, together for next year’s superhero hootenanny, The Avengers. And yep, there are most-excellent Avengers cameos in Thor.)

Back on Asgard, silver-tongued Loki is making a power play for the throne, but to the movie and the terrific Hiddleston’s credit, the Norse Trickster God is a more fully realized and emotionally complex superhero villain than usual (closer in tragic-ironic nuance to Ian McKellan’s Magneto than, say, Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane).

In its final act, Thor falls prey to that weakest of superhero-movie weaknesses, the “now we go here, then we fly there, now zoom back here for this, and then lets run over there for that” plotting. There are frost giants, power doodads, cosmic wormholes (guarded by an even more wonderfully stoic than usual Idris Elba), something called the Odinsleep (comic fans will get it, everyone else will shrug and move on), and a hulking metal Destroyer that’s apparently been sent to Earth to blow up our cars. (All hail the big, orange fireballs of summer!)

All the new Marvel movies suffer from narrative sloppiness, but luckily, storytelling directors like Iron Man’s Jon Favreau and now the Shakespearean vet Kenneth Branagh give them enough humor and forward momentum to smooth over the bumps. The new Marvel Studio System also means most directorial idiosyncrasies and flair are also buffed out of these blockbusters—Thor sometimes suffers from a too-smooth, rote enjoyability and a feeling that everyone is just playacting at all the cosmic gravitas.

But while Hemsworth may not have the magnetic flair of a Robert Downey Jr, he’s been a solid, compelling performer in Star Trek, A Perfect Getaway and last year’s Ca$h, and he gives Thor a grinning, easy laughing, winking humanity that’s a nice change from the stiff, unapproachable deity of the comic-book character.

Thor shines a lot but doesn’t quite sparkle or soar into the hot-rod thrills of the first Iron Man. But if it never feels truly inspired, it’s also never dull. Maybe in this age of a new superhero flick each month, we’ve come to expect too much from what should be straightforward Saturday Afternoon Matinee joys. Hollywood wants these flicks to make a gazillion dollars, critics want them to be auteur-fueled explorations of deep themes, fan boys dream of The Perfect Comic-Book Movie, and the rest of the audience just wants bigger and flashier action.

Thor doesn’t break new ground on those fronts, but it does deliver several hours of solid adventure fun. After all, shouldn’t the simple delights of watching a Norse god smack things with his magic hammer be enough?


More from the cast of Thor at redbox:

More superhero fun at redbox:

More epic fantasy adventure at redbox:



21 Responses to “In Theaters: Review of Thor”

  1. Fiirvoen
    Posted on May 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I’m not really sure what to make of this review. It sounds as though it was maybe a guilty pleasure for you? You liked it, but felt like you shouldn’t, but rationalized why it was okay to like it anyway. Am I close?

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Jeremy F.
    Posted on May 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    only thing that bothers me, is how they seemed to take ultimate universe things for this movie, but hey, the costume is pretty dead on…

    …and Natalie…MMMmmmmm…’nuff said…

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on May 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Fiirvoen, no I don’t think Thor is a guilty pleasure or that anyone should feel embarrassed for liking it or have to rationalize it. It’s not a the best superhero movie ever, it’s not a game-changer or a ground-breaker, but it’s perfectly enjoyable and lots of easy fun. A decent start to the summer.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on May 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Precisely that, it’s fun, though it does feel like the movie was made to remaind us that The Avengers are coming.

    Now, there’s a movie where they better break some ground…

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I thought the first hour of this movie was kind of boring actually. The laughs were predictable at best. The last half of the movie was a lot better, but it was no Iron Man. And skip the 3D, it added nothing to the movie whatsoever.

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Lisa Wagner
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I went to see Thor yesterday with a friend who had seen the previews. I watch a lot of “comic book” movies but I’ve never read any comic books. As a forty-something female, I’m probably not the target demographic. The film was fun to watch; I was never bored. The plot was a little difficult to follow – back and forth between two worlds, and far more sci-fi than I had anticipated for what I was imagining to be a mythology movie, a la Clash of the Titans. But it was nicely executed, with interesting characters. I was surprised at Branagh’s involvement and actually would have expected more from him. Many children were in the audience, which surprised me, but it was more family-friendly than I would have expected. So, all in all, a good Saturday afternoon film. Take your kids and enjoy it! But this doesn’t have the staying power of Iron Man. And why oh why the 3D? Give it up, Hollywood. I don’t WANT 3D movies, especially when the power of the 3D is largely unrealized.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Allie Mendoza
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Loved it! 3D was part of it was awesome!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Allie Mendoza
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Loved it! In 3D & totally AWESOME!

  3. Chris Dulabone
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Of all the recent super hero movies, this is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most. Now Idk what to expect. “Several hours of solid adventure fun?” I somehow doubt that the movie is several hours long. Most movies these days are around 90 minutes. Okay, yeah, they probably do end up running several hours when one has collected them and all their sequels on DVD with gobs of special features. Movie makers seem to think that people have unlimited amounts of money to spend on these things even though they obviously have no jobs so they can stay home to watch them.
    I’m sure I will see this as soon as it comes to RedBox, but this review had nothing to do with that. I was planning to do that anyway. A RedBox review should have made me much more excited than I already was.

  4. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Uh, Chris Thor is one hour and 55 minutes including the credits, which of course you have to stay and watch on all the Marvel movies these days to catch the “button” scenes at the end.

    I’m sorry my review didn’t make you much more excited to see Thor, but that’s not really what a review is supposed to do — we can quibble about what a review should do, but overall it’s supposed to tell you if the reviewer thought the film was any good and whether it’s worth seeing, or what kinds of viewers might enjoy it. I’m not here to fire you up for the film — at least not this one, which I like but don’t think is something really special you HAVE to see. If you want that result, just watch the trailer a few more times.

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Diana, I think you hit the hammer on the head, so to speak — Thor is enjoyable entertainment, but what keeps it from getting to that top level is the feeling that they’re doing it because they have to in order to promote and build hype for the Avengers.

    One of the reasons I love Peter Jackson’s LOTR (and Thor and Branagh borrow plenty of visual elements from it, especially at the start) is that you feel Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens REALLY care about the material — they’re personally invested in bringing that story and world to life for you. And to a lesser extent the same is true of Favreau’s Iron Man 1 & 2 — you get the sense that he is really committed to the material and making a fun movie for its own sake. (Which I suspect is part of the reason Favreau isn’t directing The Avengers — I’m guessing it just felt more and more like an assembly line movie by studio committee) I HOPE Joss can really get around that for Avengers, but I worry the film is just going to be so big, so important to Disney, and so micromanaged…

    Thor doesn’t really have that element — Branagh is a solid director and does a good job with it, but you never feel like his heart or Marvel’s heart is really in this film. They made a fun summer movie, they got another of their big pieces in place for The Avengers and they’ll earn their box-office cash. I still enjoy Thor, but like you said, Lisa Wagner, I doubt it’s a superhero film I’m re-watching years from now just for the fun of it.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm


    First, let me just say thanks for the review. Call me a Fan boy, but I will buy this on Blu Ray when it comes out. I have many superhero movies, in my collection, and I watch them over and over again. As for what the makers of the movie did or did not plan to accomplish, with this movie, I would say that is evident in the making of the movie. They want to make money. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Why must there always be some underlying agenda in the making of a movie? We don’t always have to learn something in the telling of a tall tale. Maybe we just want to sit back and be entertained for 2 hours and not have to think about reality for that time period. A little escape from reality that isn’t illegal, isn’t addicting and only hurts my pocket book when I shell out $12.00 for the movie and twice that amount for a popcorn and soda.

    All that said, to say this: I agree with most of your review. I would only venture away from you in saying that I will go back again. I will buy the Blu Ray (not in 3D). And I will watch this movie again, as I do all my superhero movies over and over again. I was at the midnight showing, of the film, at my local theatre. No, I wasn’t the one wearing the full Thor outfit, complete with plastic cape, Viking helmet and rubber replica of Mjolnir. I did sit close enough to him that I could smell the aroma of mead on his person. See you at the movies.


    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Trevor L
    Posted on May 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Entertaining. Definitely enough to warrant a theater visit.

  6. Matthew The Movie Geek
    Posted on May 9, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I enjoyed the film, and just sat back and watched, so I wasn’t disappointed.

    At times I wondered, “why does the dialogue feel almost upper crust when Thor talks?” and my brain remembered, “oh, Branagh directed this” and all was well.

    I just recently re-watched Chamber of Secrets and couldn’t help but smile.

  7. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on May 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Lightspeedsnail, I agree with you about all that — I was trying to make the same point in my review that it’s okay to just enjoy Thor as easy, above-average summer escapist fun even if it’s not the best superhero movie ever. I have no problem with escapist fun at the movies (as long as they are the desert and not served as every course all the time), though I’d still say Thor only comes up as about a B on the “escapist fun” meter.

    Thor has been a tricky film to write about critically — mediocre films (that aren’t bad, aren’t great) usually are, but Thor is NOT mediocre. On the superhero movie scale it’s definitely above average, but it just never felt truly inspired to me. I still enjoyed it and appreciate all the things it did right, I just wasn’t over the Moon (or Asgard) for it.

  8. Adrian
    Posted on May 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    If its a movie I’m watching it no complaints here

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on May 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Locke -

    I agree, a fun enjoyable movie, not too high of expectations and not dreadful to watch as lets say an Xmen movie….but I digress as usual.

    And bite your keyboard for even suggesting “we” might expect too much from a comic book movie. We have to set the standards high so one day, somebody will figure “it” out and truly deliver to the fans as LOTR finally did.

    And finally, you knew this was coming, sigh….so what about us girls who love SciFi, Fantasy and Comic books? Where do we fall? Lumping us in with the rest of the audience???? “Hollywood wants these flicks to make a gazillion dollars, critics want them to be auteur-fueled explorations of deep themes, fan boys dream of The Perfect Comic-Book Movie, and the rest of the audience just wants bigger and flashier action”.

    “Us” Fan Girls dream of The Perfect Comic-Book Movie to one day grace our presence as well.

    Come on, I know you really, really dont like me, but dont leave us out of our favorite genre, please ;)

  9. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on May 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Jenn, I had “fan girls” in an earlier draft near the beginning, which is why I didn’t mention it a second time. But I cut that intro part out later and forgot to put “fan girls” back in at the bottom.

  10. Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on May 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Ahhh shucks, atta boy :)

  11. JGM
    Posted on May 14, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I may have gotten enough entertainment just out of the phrase “Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Thor’” to justify sending them $8.

  12. Fiirvoen
    Posted on May 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    I finally saw the movie and several things stuck out that kinda defied the whole mainstream comic book movie thing. I think these are what make this movie great.

    First: The scene in which Thor fights his way through dozens of heavily trained men to the hammer and then… FAILS. He completely is unable to lift the hammer. This is the ultimate bait and switch for a comic book movie and is just done well.

    Second: The relationship between Thor and Portman’s character. She played it as awkwardly adorable as possible without going over the top. The chemistry felt very real and honest here. Also, she’s not left as the damsel in distress at the end.

    Third: Loki’s character is completely believable as the good brother turned mad with jealousy.

    Fourth: Helmsworth’s acting was spot-on in making Thor a relateable person in need of a little humility and humanity. It wasn’t over-the-top or forced. His emotional acting felt very genuine.

    Of course the beginning scene where he offs the big baddie in a blink definitely established that he doesn’t mess around when things get serious. So many other comic book movies try to make every bad guy bigger and badder and the most difficult challenge yet. Yet the real danger here is not physical, but mental. The decietfulness of Loki is certainly well established outside of this movie, but as a theme, it isn’t seen often in (comic book) movies these days.