Superhero origin stories in cinema, by their nature, are typically a little more deliberately paced. Extra time is spent developing the hero as he or she discovers his or her abilities, struggles to balance an extraordinary life with an ordinary one and draws the attention of supervillains. These heroes are easy to relate to, because they’re usually ordinary people that the average audience member understands. As such, Thor requires a slightly altered approach to the origin story because he’s already a superhero and he’s from another planet. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite get the slower pace it needs to fully develop the character and plot.
As presented in the film, there are other planets in the universe other than Earth that are home to intelligent life. One planet is the icy world of Jotunheim, where malevolent Ice Giants live, led by King Laufey (Colm Feore). Another planet is Asgard, where the Asgardians from Norse mythology reside. Here, the people are ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). In a costly and daring war, Odin defeated King Laufey and forced a truce that lasted for ages. In time, Odin drew older and had two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), from which Odin had to choose a successor. He chose Thor. Unfortunately, Thor proved to be undeserving of the title and his powers and was cast out of Asgard to suffer on Earth as a mortal. Helping him on his journey is Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her ramshackle team studying wormholes who don’t want to believe that Thor could have come from another planet. Meanwhile on Asgard, with Odin growing feeble and Thor away, Loki puts into action his designs for the throne.
Thor is a different kind of origin story in that Thor is introduced to the audience as a superhero to begin with. There are no clumsy scenes with him discovering and learning to use his powers. As such, the audience doesn’t get to learn his powers with him. Therefore, a different approach to teaching the audience is required, but viewers won’t get it. So audiences that aren’t already familiar with the source material may wonder what exactly Thor can do. Is he powerless without his hammer? Can he control lightning? Can he fly or is he just holding onto the hammer while it flies? Learning exactly what Thor can and can’t do would help shape expectations for the rest of the film.
Visually, Thor is beautiful and almost fully realized. The ice planet Jotunheim is appropriately barren and unwelcoming, while Asgard is lush and full of the little details that make up Norse sensibilities, like wings and horns and martial weapons. The fantastic characters also look wonderful, ranging from Ice Giants with blood red eyes and severe facial features to towering metallic guardians that can annihilate anything with a single energy blast. Those who decide to watch Thor in IMAX 3D won’t be disappointed as it’s done well and doesn’t fall prey to being overly dark or other visual anomalies. Those who decide to watch the film in 2D won’t be missing much, however, since the 3D effect is so subtle that watching the 3D version without appropriate glasses is completely serviceable.
The action is decent, but understandably sparse. It’s generally fun to watch Thor beat up Ice Giants early on and dispatch a hardened foe later, but he never seems to be in any danger. Even when the requisite “gigantic monster” is called upon to fight Thor it’s defeated easily. So while the filmmakers get the size of the action right, they miss on the depth of it. Superheroes are defined by their strengths and weaknesses. Thor never seems to be vulnerable except as a plot device.
The film could have also used another thirty minutes of runtime or shed screentime with ancillary characters in order to focus more on the main character and the universe of the property. Instead, Thor feels accelerated and plot beats happen because the story formula demands them to rather than the moments occurring organically. For instance, it’s expected that Jane should fall in love with Thor, but there’s absolutely no reason for her to do so other than the fact that he’s aggressively attractive. Later, when the planet of a rival race that is bent on destroying Asgard is in danger, Thor risks his life to save it without any reason whatsoever. While audiences can definitely fill in the blanks, that isn’t the most satisfying way to tell a story.
Overall, Thor is a fun popcorn flick that isn’t meant to be taken as seriously as more recent comic book adaptations. In fact, audiences will probably find the film more humorous than heart pounding with the many comedic gags that pepper the movie, like Jane constantly hitting Thor with her vehicle, a constant mispronunciation of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir as “meow-meow” and other funny bits. While the other aspects of the film don’t quite reach their potential, Thor is still an entertaining time in the theater and will definitely satisfy most fans of superhero films.