“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor!” says Odin as he enchants the hammer Mjolnir.
Marvel Studios hit it big with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008 and Iron Man 2 in 2010. All three of those films were Earth-bound adventures. For their fourth release, Marvel would gamble on a more cosmic-set film (with a large portion still set on Earth) with Thor. To legitimize the film, Marvel hired Kenneth Branagh to direct; his Shakespearean credentials would give the film more dramatic weight and an idea of what to expect. Many were unsure if the gamble would pay off (there was even a phony controversy over Idris Elba’s casting as an Asgardian, but that went away when it was revealed that Asgardians were not gods but rather beings from another realm who were mistakenly believe to be gods by the Vikings centuries ago). Sure enough, the gamble paid off and Thor helped pave the road that would lead to The Avengers the following year. I saw Thor on the big screen when it first came out, and I enjoyed it very much (although I wish I had seen it in 3D).
2011’s Thor follows the god of thunder as he is banished to Earth by his father Odin and must learn to become worthy of his mighty hammer Mjolnir once more so that he can thwart his brother Loki’s scheme to claim the throne of Asgard. Branagh assembled an impressive cast that includes Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Natalie Portman (as Dr. Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (as Loki), Anthony Hopkins (as King Odin), Stellan Skarsgard (as Dr. Erik Selvig), Kat Dennings (as Darcy), Idris Elba (as Heimdall), Jaimie Alexander (as Sif), Ray Stevenson (as Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (as Hogun), Joshua Dallas (as Fandral), Colme Feore (as Laufey), Rene Russo (as Queen Frigga), Jeremy Renner (as Clint Barton/Hawkeye), and Clark Gregg (as Agent Phil Coulson). Hemsworth is perfectly cast as the god of thunder, Hiddleston is manipulative as the god of mischief, and Portman is more than believable as an astrophysicist. The screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne balances the fantastical and reality (particularly Earth and Asgard). It’s part Shakespearean drama (the family dynamic with Odin, Thor, and Loki was fascinating) and part road film (but without the road, unless we count the rainbow-colored bridge known as the Bifrost).
Branagh’s direction is strong, as is Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography. The production design by Bo Welch is top-notch (I loved the awe-inspiring Asgardian sets), as well as Luisa Abel’s makeup design (I enjoyed the fiery look of the Frost Giants) and Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs (best represented by the Asgardian costumes). Paul Rubell’s editing gives the film a good pace, alternating between the events on Earth and Asgard. The special effects were incredible (again, I really wish I had seen the film in 3D). Patrick Doyle wrote a terrific score with pulsing action music and a heroic, noble theme for Thor. Branagh’s film was a make-or-break gamble that served as an excellent introduction for the famous Asgardian, helped pave a successful road to The Avengers, and led Marvel to take a much bigger gamble on the entirely cosmic-set Guardians of the Galaxy.