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Thor's Origin Story is More of the Same

<i>Thor</i>'s Origin Story  is More of the Same

DVD Release Date: September 13, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: May 6, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Adaptation
Run Time: 114 min.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Rene Russo

Had your fill of comic-book action heroes on the silver screen? If not, Marvel hero Thor makes his film debut this weekend. More than a superhero-story, Thor also tells an origin story and a fish-out-of-water story that draws laughs and a few moments of excitement, but does nothing to ease concerns that these stories are getting a bit long in the tooth.

The title character is a Norse god who comes to Earth after a nasty family spat. His father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Rite), rules the peaceful realm of Asgard, taking pride in its role in having brought peace to the universe. His son Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) vows to preserve the peace and cast aside all selfish ambition, but soon instigates a conflict with the frost giants. The provocation flies in the face of Odin’s advice—“a wise king never seeks out war”—so he accuses Thor of arrogance and stupidity, removes Thor’s power and casts him and his mighty hammer to Earth.

There Thor has a close encounter with Jane (Natalie Portman, No Strings Attached), a researcher who works with Erik (Stellan Skarsgard, Angels & Demons) and Darcy (Kat Dennings, The Answer Man). Comic hijinks ensue as hunky Thor expresses forms of Asgardian enthusiasm—for example, smashing a coffee cup to demonstrate how much he enjoys the brew—that are frowned upon on our planet. While our hero struggles to reorient himself to his new surroundings, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) moves in on their frail father, grabbing power after Odin falls into a deep sleep.

Thor’s story continues to alternate between the hero’s time on Earth and the struggle for power on Asgard. A government agent from our world is introduced as an antagonist who tries to figure out where Thor came from and what his hammer—embedded in a desert rock—might mean. But the character of the agent is underdeveloped. The film is overpopulated with extraneous characters, like Thor’s four buddies who show up on Earth late in the film, or Thor’s mother (Rene Russo). This story works best when it focuses on Thor, Loki, their father and Jane.

While it’s obvious a lot of money and effort were spent to bring Thor to the big screen, none of it helps explain why we need yet another superhero story, not to mention the type of origin story that has become dominant since Batman Begins and Iron Man. Those films weren’t perfect, but their strengths—strong leading men (particularly Robert Downey Jr., Due Date) and memorable villains (Jeff Bridges, TRON: Legacy)—put them in a class above Thor. On the plus side, Thor is a lighter, less intense film than those origin stories, and is helped by a strong directorial hand. Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) shows skill behind the camera, using canted angles to give the film a comic-book-come-to-life quality, even amid Thor’s opulent visual effects.

Like Iron Man, Thor works best when it lightens up and has a little fun with its hero, but those moments compete with the heavily trod elements we’ve seen multiple times. How many more of these stories will audiences demand before the tales grow stale?

It’s to the credit of Branagh and his stars that they manage to make Thor feel fresh at times, mainly during Thor’s stint on Earth. Hemsworth might not be a great actor, but his sculpted torso does as much to create an effective Thor than do any of his line readings. Portman, fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan, is a lovely leading lady, although the most memorable lines are reserved for Kat Dennings as the witty Darcy, a bright new star in this intergalactic story.

Thor is a “PG-13” summer movie with no big drawbacks working against it. Fans of the Marvel movies will find much to enjoy in Thor, while family audiences won’t be confronted with excessive violence or sexuality (read the “Cautions” below for more detail). The biggest obstacle to enjoying Thor is the feeling that its success will lead to more of the same stories, told over and over again, at the cinema.


  • Language/Profanity: Several “Oh my Gods”;“da-n”; “dumba-s”; “what the hell.”  
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Darcy says she can tell Thor is “totally hammered”; beer drinking; two characters down the same drink simultaneously.
  • Sex/Nudity:Thor is shown shirtless, and Darcy wishes she could perform CPR on Thor when she first sees him; kissing.
  • Violence/Crime:Frost giants kill people by encasing them in ice; sword fight; Thor turns over a table in anger; brawling and fisticuffs; stabbing; Thor kills large adversaries; Thor is hit by a car twice; Thor is Tasered; Thor fights off hospital personnel and is given an injection by force; Odin’s eye is injured in battle; Thor slapped; cars destroyed.
  • Religion/Morals: Norse gods; a reference to worship of “deities”; asking of forgiveness from another person.

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