Marvel’s Thor is the toughest of the lead Avengers to bring to the big screen. He’s a cross between a space alien and a Norse god, he wields a hammer named Mjolnir instead of standard superhero weapons like guns or swords, and he wears a cape. The character could fall so easily into camp territory, but director Kenneth Branagh takes the bold approach of playing the character completely straight but still keeps the movie fun and light. This balance of broad comedy and bombastic action mixed with straight-faced drama comes from the perfect combination of lead actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. While the film does have some problems in developing the supporting characters, its biggest sin is in the 3D post-conversion which turns the bright shining lights of Asgard into a dim, blurry mess. But if you catch the film in 2D, Thor is going to be some of the most fun you have in a theater this year.
Decades after the Asgardian king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) makes a truce with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Odin’s son Thor (Hemsworth) is set to take the throne. Thor is cocky, brash, and vainglorious—the polar opposite of his brother Loki (Hiddleston) who is quiet, calm, and calculating. On the day of Thor’s coronation, a trio of Frost Giants interrupts the party by attempting to steal back a superpowered casket that Odin took as the spoils of war. The thieves are quickly obliterated by a giant mechanical guard known as “Destroyer”, but Thor is thirsty for vengeance. Along with Loki, female warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, and Ray Stevenson), Thor travels to Jotunheim, battles with the Frost Giants, and almost destroys the fragile truce that’s existed between the two realms. Odin, disappointed with Thor’s actions, strips the warrior of his powers and banishes him to Earth. Meanwhile, Loki remains in Asgard and continues to scheme his way to the throne.
Watching the trailers, my biggest concern about Thor was how the film would handle the character’s life on Earth. Everything on Asgard looked grand, but I was worried that sticking the character on our planet without his superpowers would lead to a dull story that would strip away what makes the character unique. But Hemsworth’s performance always lets us know that Thor is there. He may not be summoning down lightning bolts, but Hemsworth conveys the character’s easy charm, rugged nobility, and astounding confidence to the point where we always see the cape and armor even if they’re not physically present. Thor’s attitude and the way he plays off astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) provides the bulk of the film’s humor and keeps the film from falling into tired “fish out of water” jokes.
Where Branagh keeps the movie serious is with Loki’s story. Thor may be the title character and the hero, but Thor is just as much about Loki’s origin. Hiddleston does an outstanding job of defining the character without having Loki fall into a predictable performance. Lesser actors would have turned Loki to either the familiar moustache-twirling schemer or put the character into a constant sate of petulant jealousy. But Hiddleston makes the wise decision to bring a great sadness and regret to Loki and that choice pays off in a big way. Hiddleston forces us to empathize with the villain and while the story is broad enough that there can be no debate as to whether or not Loki is the “bad guy”, we can also understand where the character is coming from and that his motives aren’t “Evil” in big flashing letters.
But between the character arcs of Thor and Loki, the film has some difficulty in squeezing in all of the supporting characters and relationships. The presence of SHIELD and the foundations for The Avengers are integrated far better than they were in Iron Man 2 and the film is even able to introduce a new Avenger without slowing down the plot. However, the relationship between Thor and Jane—the movie’s romance subplot—is kept afloat not because the characters spend so much time together, but because of the strong performances and chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman. The Warriors Three and Sif are also undeveloped and the movie misses a key opportunity to define the Asgardian warriors during the battle on Jotunheim.
But the battle on Jotunheim has far bigger problems than a lack of character development. Marvel made the greedy decision to give Thor a 3D post-conversion that only served to jack up the cost of ticket prices while providing a worse visual experience in return. The battle on Jotunheim is the movie’s first big set piece. It shows us what Thor can do when he’s wielding his hammer and it’s one of only three major action scenes in the movie. The 3D reduces the battle to a blurry grey mess by draining all of the color and definition from the visuals. There is not a single moment in Thor where I thought “The 3D made this better,” but there were plenty of moments where I thought “The 3D is ruining this movie.” If you see Thor—and you should—save your money, see it in 2D, and let Marvel and the rest of Hollywood know that we’re sick of shitty 3D post-conversions.
Thor proves two things: First up—the character and his universe can be successfully adapted to the big screen, and in the hands of a director like Kenneth Branagh who knows how to play up a Shakespearean angle while still keeping the film relatable to modern audience, Thor works wonders. Hemsworth and Hiddleston keep the film anchored in honest character moments that allows Branagh to paint on a huge canvas in Asgard and keep the action light and silly down on Earth. But the other thing that Thor proves is that studios need to stop with 3D post-conversions. They hurt the movie, rip off audiences, and it will ultimately only serve to drive audiences away from theaters. The 3D in Thor isn’t worthy of fans, of casual moviegoers, or the gods.