Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
Have I Seen it Before: Less frequently than I had originally thought. Aside from Iron Man (2008) I really have not re-watched much of the Phase One MCU films.
Did I Like It: I think I liked it at the time of the premiere, but in light of far more entertaining uses of the character, I’m not sure it has aged as well as some of the other Phase One-ers.
This film is at odds with itself, or at least my reaction to it is at odds with itself.
On one hand, it is a highly staged cgi-drowned tale of Kings and their realms. This is probably what caused the powers behind Marvel studios to think of Kenneth Branagh as the director, and what may have drawn the Shakespeare adapter-in-chief to the project. This is a fine, but quickly boring aesthetic on which to base a film. One need look to the more focused—and infinitely more forgettable—sequel, Thor: The Dark World (2013) for how far such stodgy staging will get you.
The other half of the film is even more baffling. Groaning under budget constraints at a time where a shared Marvel universe wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed way to print money, the rest of the film plays out in a nearly abandoned New Mexican town, with a few scant explosions, and one CGI robot thing. A far cry from the epic films we expect from the studio now. This is all to say that half of this film looks cheap. TV cheap. Like Agents of SHIELD during seasons when everyone stopped watching cheap. It’s such an odd relic of an era for these films that seems like it took place a million years ago.
But, the MCU—and more importantly Thor, Odinson continued—and there are charms in the film that allowed the experiment to continue. What it lacks in the traditional whiz-bang blockbuster magic, it more than makes up for in engaging performances. Chris Hemsworth threatened the world with his movie star charms in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), and while the goofy comedian behind the manhunk doesn’t come into full bloom until Thor: Ragnarok (2017), we see pieces of the once and future Ghostbuster Secretary Kevin here. Similarly, Natalie Portman sheds the Padme Amidala of it all and—while it’s not exactly heavy lifting in the film—convincingly engages in a screen romance.
i suppose it says something about the Marvel movies that they are supremely watchable in their initial release, but seem quaint as the movies only improve. Imagine a world where Avengers: Endgame (2019) feels quaint. I’m already exhausted.