If an Iron Man movie was scraping the bottom of the barrel, making a movie based on Thor was punching straight through the floor. Thor was no one’s favorite character. He was a stodgy dipshit, full of a righteousness that was as unrelatable as his powers. I regarded him as a fixture in Marvel Comics, just as exciting as that lamp you never notice in your parents living room. A Thor movie should never have worked.
And yet it did. Perhaps the filmmakers had the same feelings I did because they seemed to take the framework of the character and flesh out a new one, giving us someone we can actually care about. They used the idea of cosmic royalty to tell a compelling drama about betrayal, deceit, sacrifice, and noble heroics that bordered on shakespearean. Throw in a helping of humor and visuals that can still astound 7 years later and baby, you got a stew going. Most of the humor comes from seeing Thor have to navigate life on earth as essentially a space alien, and some comes in the form of smart assed quips from characters like Darcy, played by Kat Dennings. But even when the characters are joking the movie is careful to make sure they remain consistent, giving them an integrity that is necessary to carry some of the more dramatic moments. This frees up the narrative to deliver most of the levity itself as allowing out-of-character moments for the sake of cheap laughs would have weakened the drama. That integrity is also present in the design of Asgard. Every structure looks at once futuristic and classically nordic, glowing a golden light while under a stunning canopy of galaxies and nebulas, perhaps how a viking would have imagined heaven. Asgard is simply beautiful and makes a believable home for creatures humans would regard as gods. But the heart of this movie is Thor’s journey
While this is firmly Thor’s story, it heavily leverages his brother Loki to tell it. Thor starts off arrogant and vain, and it gets him banished and stripped of his powers. At the same time, Loki learns a deeply disillusioning truth that sets him against his family. Thor’s father, Odin, sends him and his magic hammer to Earth with an incantation that a person must be worthy to wield the hammer and gain the power of Thor. While Loki manages to seize power on Asgard, Thor finds the hammer and himself unworthy to lift it. As if to send Thor plummeting to rock bottom, Loki shows up right after to feed him lies about their father dying and his exile being permanent. Thor has lost everything; his power, status, friends, family, and home. He resigns himself to suffer the consequence of his actions and in the process learns humility. Loki meanwhile only learns anger and sends a weapon to Earth to kill his brother. Thor’s growth is evident in this moment when instead of resisting, he apologizes to his brother for “whatever I have done to make you so angry” and sacrifices himself. Through this sacrifice, Thor becomes worthy and is resurrected in his powers. While Thor takes responsibility for his actions Loki descends into selfishness, and in the end chooses to fall into a black hole rather than accept help from his family and atone for his actions. We have to see Loki’s honor fall while seeing Thor’s rise in order to understand the nobility of his choices. We see a selfless hero rise out of a “vain, greedy, and cruel boy.” All this drama might have missed the mark if it wasn’t elevated by great performances from a surprisingly impressive supporting cast: Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Their acting is better than this movie needed, and in the process they made this a movie fitting of their talents.
There are opportunities to nitpick this movie, but I liked it too much for that. They took characters that are childishly shallow and gave them depth and fallibility that made them likeable, so quibbling about camera angles or product placement just seems disrespectful. This movie carefully walks the line between serious and ridiculous, and delivers a little more than simple popcorn fun. Lines that could be regarded as cheesy in a different movie can be forgiven here since they are spoken by characters that have been fleshed out with multifaceted human emotions. We get to see Thor grow and change, allowing us to get attached and care when things happen to him. After many years and viewings, I still regard this movie as a pleasant surprise, better than it had any right to be. 4/5
Coming up next: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)