Thor Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba
Release Date: May 6, 2011
“Can I come home?”
Rarely do we hear these words come from a man of enormous stature. It is hard to conceive a man who hasn’t felt the anguish of defeat utter these words while in a state of utter helplessness. It is only right that we become even more incredulous when we have a God asking “Can I come home?” Thor, the long blond-haired hammer-pounding God of Thunder, and zealously worshipped during the Viking Age of what is referred to as Norse mythology, has become overwhelmed by the time he asks the dejected question. Prior to this Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has endured brutal battles occurring in the magical realm of Asgard. He has dealt with familial angst between his father and King of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But all has taken an immense toll on Thor and he is unable to maintain any kind of emotional balance, causing his potency and permanence as a war-thirsty God to become less formidable. Instead, he is rendered humble, disconsolate, and love stricken. A once-fierce God enjoying the pleasures of immortality, Thor needs to redefine his life as he suffers, emotionally and physically, the uncomfortable truths of mortality.
Lurking in the film version of Thor, which has a congregation of eight screenwriters who desperately try to integrate characters and ideas that scream AVENGERS, are director Kenneth Branagh‘s strong convictions of Shakespeare, which he employs in the film so the thematic material takes on grander significance. Branagh wowed us with his direction of Henry V and Hamlet, and exposed his acting ability in superb pieces such as the two aforementioned movies and three other Shakespeare adaptations (Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, and Love’s Labour’s Lost). So it seems odd to see Branagh attached to a comic book adaptation of Marvel’s Thor (Marvel introduced Thor to us in 1962). Branagh’s more of a high-brow artist infatuated with intellectual pieces of literature that are meant to perplex the mind. Adapting Thor initially seemed below his standards. But peer a bit closer and his attachment to the project can be seen as being highly likely.
A warrior stripped from all he knows and cast out of a celestial environment only to find himself trying to recuperate here on planet Earth sounds like a ripe tale that Shakespeare would depict or maybe he already depicted it. Substitute the celestial environment for a wealthy kingdom and substitute planet Earth for a village infested with peasants, and you would have the formula for many of Shakespeare’s plays. Upset with his son’s arrogance and dishonor, which stemmed from Thor engaging in battle with the Frost Giants, Odin casts Thor, the soon to be King, out of Asgard. Thor is stripped of his armor and has Mjolnir (his powerful hammer) taken from him. Down the portal that connects to multiple realms, which is guarded by Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor is sent, only to crash in the middle of nowhere in a small town in New Mexico. Opening his eyes the first experience on Earth is seeing Jane (a spellbindingly beautiful Natalie Portman), a scientist industriously studying the realms of outer space with her partners Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Erik (Stellan Skarsgard). Soon all of them become well acquainted with Thor and they’re on their way in trying to uncover the mystery surrounding his existence on planet Earth.
While on Earth, Thor is hunted by government agents of all sorts (including S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg), comically experiences the deliciousness of breakfast and coffee for the first time and comically receives knowledge regarding many things we earthlings have grown accustomed to. The one thing we haven’t grown greatly accustomed to is love. Thor experiences this passion when he and Jane share scenes of tender intimacy together. A smile by her, a smirk by him taking place under the stars and the two create a palpable relationship that we never second guess, even if it is between a mortal and an immortal.
The scenes of activity taking place on Earth evaporate everything that occurs in Asgard. Branagh borrows another Shakespearean asset as he jumps back and forth from a magical realm to reality. The magical realm is where a barrage of uninspiring action scenes occurs, brooding hopelessly on lengthy extravagant battle scenes that offer little creativity. Persuasive waves of emotional sensation move through the film’s scenes occurring on Earth, displacing the frustration we feel when we keep coming back to the mystical realm of Asgard.
Recent Marvel adaptations have a strong ambition about them. Sure they have great visual flair, but what does that get you? More importantly they’re seeped in powerful themes, possess potent motifs, and have characters that assume a position in society where transformation is inevitable — be it either for better or for worse. Immutability isn’t what these “superhero” films are after. They promote character development, character’s battling with their conscious, and character’s who are vigorously passionate for someone or thing. Nolan’s two Batman films, Favreau’s first Iron Man and Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies know that human nature is vulnerable because of the depredations humanity is likely to encounter. All the characters who embody their given hero are casual citizens of planet Earth. What makes Thor intriguing (huge props for Hemsworth’s screen presence and vulnerability) is its main character is from a place of unearthly, mystical enchantment yet still is susceptible to being led astray only to encounter elements we mortals experience daily.