Perhaps to avoid controversy with powerful religious right lobbyists, the superhero character Thor in this new comic book adaptation is no longer an actual Norse god. Instead, he is one of the powerful beings from the mystical realm Asgard, whose presence on Earth in ancient times has seen them labelled by us humans as gods. So a bit like Superman, Thor is god-like without literally being a god. Unlike Superman, he is arrogant, bad tempered and impatient. During the film’s lengthy prologue in Asgard, Thor’s headstrong attitude results in him getting banished to Earth. Thor explores many fundamental archetypal stories from various strands of classical mythology involving banished sons, sibling rivalries and the hero’s journey from disgrace to redemption.
Thor is not a groundbreaking film but it’s a satisfying and entertaining spectacle that facilitates decent character and narrative development over its running time. The special effects used to create Asgard and the various action scenes are mostly very exciting and engaging even if there is a slight by-the-numbers feel to a lot of it. Having Earth-bound Thor stripped of his powers means that while he is still a strong and skilled warrior, he is not invincible. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are therefore effectively engaging and provide a good contrast to the more magical sequences at the beginning and end of the film.
Chris Hemsworth is well cast as Thor, not just for his looks and almost comically perfect physique, but for the charisma he brings to the character. His transition from hot-headedness to humility is convincing and he’s able to play both the hero and the bewildered (and bewildering) oddity from another world. In fact, the inherent ridiculousness of the film’s whole premise is often incorporated to provide some fun chuckles without becoming full-blown parody. Thor’s ye olde speaking mannerisms and old-fashioned gallantry make him not unlike the Groosalugg character from the television series Angel. This bodes well for Thor’s next cinematic appearance in the 2012 film The Avengers, which is being directed and co-written by Angel co-creator Joss Whedon.
The most interesting point about Thor is how the villains are constructed and what actions make them villainous. While the deadly Frost Giants who threaten Asgard are the most obvious bad guys, the real enemy in the film are the forces within Asgard that want to destroy any opportunities for a truce and diplomacy. Indeed, Thor’s hostile act of war mongering during a fragile situation is what sees him initially declared unfit to be king. Similar to 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Thor is very much a post-Bush Administration and post-Iraq Invasion film where popular culture is used to suggest that military provocation and aggression is immoral and ineffective. Combined with a respect for the work done by scientists, Thor is a very progressive film. Wisdom and humility are the ultimate prizes in Thor, but not at the expense of a lot of fun battle sequences on Earth and in Asgard.