THOR is a superhero I care nothing about. I never read his comics. He never had a TV show that I watched, and I don't remember him showing up on the cartoons I did watch (though apparently he was in a Hulk movie I didn't see). He was a footnote in Adventures in Babysitting, but I hated that movie. If I'm honest, I've always considered THOR B-canon, somewhere above Moon Knight and below Iron Man. Because of this, I had very low expectations for the THOR movie.
But thank goodness Marvel has run out of A-list superheroes to bring to the big screen! Rather than rebooting series that don't need to be rebooted, I like their step in this direction: importing lesser known stories and making them interesting. Of course, their reasoning behind all this is to make a super-movie next summer (The Avengers, written by Joss Whedon--I will be there opening night), but each of the Avengers so far has gotten the royal treatment. In fact, I've enjoyed their movies much more than superheroes I know much better (X-Men, anyone? [And X-Men: First Class looks like it will carry on in the sad tradition of X-Men 3]).
So...why did I enjoy THOR so much? Well, it wasn't because of the script, or because of Natalie Portman, or because of the Star Wars-esque Asgard. It was because it had the proper blend of earnestness and humor. Casting Anthony Hopkins in the role of Odin (I don't know how much they had to pay him for that...) was a stroke of genius. When I see Anthony Hopkins on screen, it doesn't matter who he is: I believe him. I take him seriously (even when I'm asked to believe that he was a Spanish don and Zorro). Anthony Hopkins brings gravitas, which is something THOR required. Without a strong center, there was no way to trust in the rest of the movie. Thankfully, Hopkins was that center.
But the movie also had a strong sense of its own ridiculousness. The god of thunder comes to earth, speaking King James English? The movie played THOR's fish-out-of-water story for laughs, and while some of these laughs fell flat, it was a wise decision. A completely serious movie about THOR would have fallen into melodrama and, worse, complete camp (a la '60s Batman). As it was, THOR blended seriousness and camp enough to keep viewers interested without making them feel stupid for being interested.
Perhaps THOR's greatest strength, though, was Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who was absolutely fantastic. I'm excited that he will return for The Avengers. He played his role with the right amount of sincerity and mischief. Nicely done.
When I heard THOR landed Kenneth Branagh as director, I was excited, but I worried that this would tarnish Branagh's reputation rather than raise the caliber of THOR. I was mistaken. THOR, while not for everyone, was enjoyable summer fare and serves as a nice introduction to next summer's Avengers movie. If The Avengers is as good as THOR promises, we're in for a treat.
(And with that, I'm done geeking out for a bit. What are your thoughts on THOR?)