Luckily, Thor is here to save us. A wonderfully straightforward, fun, exciting, and even somewhat moving look at what happens when a “god” is forced to learn a few life lessons down here on Earth, “Thor” has renewed my faith in the pure entertainment potential of a superhero movie. There’s noble sacrifice, interesting family dynamics, cool special effects that don’t become overwhelming, plenty of action, and cameras that stay right where they’re supposed to instead of bouncing around like they’re on a sugar high.
In short, the perfect summer movie.
In fact, it’s also the perfect gateway movie for anyone who’s been reluctant to dip their toes into the genre, scared off by the idea that superhero movies are too juvenile, empty, or self-referentially complicated for the average movie fan to appreciate. For those of you who fall into this category, choose your argument below and see whether or not “Thor” might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Superhero movies are too juvenile
Fun fact: “Thor” is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who became famous as a director (and often actor) mostly through bringing Shakespeare to the silver screen. Though “Thor” is certainly no “Hamlet,” it’s structured around a solid look at some of the same basic elements — how love and resentment can collide into poisoning a family, the battle between action and inaction and the effect it can have on the people around you, and whether or not your life is more important than the things you believe in.
There are plenty of witty one-liners, of course (even Shakespeare loved those), but they don’t get in the way of some of the more heartfelt and (dare I say it?) literate elements. These guys might not actually be gods, but their story embodies elements of all the best hero myths.
Superhero movies are too empty
If you’re looking for deep pondering on the state of the world, then you probably can’t manage to sit through the bulk of movies currently hitting theaters. But “Thor” offers a relatively innocent look at several classic fantasy/action elements — long journeys in which the hero grows up, sacrificing for the good of people you will never meet, and what it takes to truly be a good leader.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) starts out as something of a jerk, but earns his redemption through far more than the ability to make wisecracks. (Actually, he doesn’t really do those — wittiness responsibilities largely fall to Kat Dennings’ character). Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, is technically the bad guy but in many ways is also caught in a very bad emotional situation. He manages to give his character a depth and sadness that Mickey Rourke tried for and failed to pull off in Iron Man 2.
Superhero movies are too self-referentially complicated
“Thor” has never been the most popular character in Marvel’s collection, and as such the movie wisely jettisons a good portion of the guy’s back story as determined by the comics. The simple explanation here is that they’re aliens, not gods, though given how good-looking they all are it’s easy to see why early man got confused. They came down early on to help defend we earthlings from another race (the frost giants) who tried to invade us via a worm hole like gateway that the script is smart enough not to bog down with explanations.
Thankfully, that simplicity continues throughout the movie, which manages to avoid crowding things with too many subplots or extraneous characters or random slapstick or mythology explanations we don’t really need. It’s just a man learning how to be a hero, which these days is super enough for me.