At this point, the movies produced in-house by Marvel Studios are more than just individual pieces of entertainment: They’re all building blocks in a larger universe being established, leading up to next summer’s superhero team-up extravaganza The Avengers. In that sense, Thor is perfectly adequate, serving as a scene-setter for the upcoming crossover and establishing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a character who will probably have some entertaining interactions with Iron Man and the Hulk. But as its own entity it’s mostly unexceptional, with a central conflict that lacks urgency and a main character who’s engaging only in his reactions to the supporting cast. Will superhero fans enjoy Thor? Sure, but it succeeds only on the most basic level.
Part of the problem is the character himself, who has to serve as both a larger-than-life god (literally, in this case, although the movie downplays that aspect) and a relatable person interacting with everyday humans. Marvel characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Hulk are appealing partly because of their recognizable flaws, but Thor’s biggest character weakness, his arrogance, comes from his place above and apart from humanity. Director Kenneth Branagh sensibly frames the movie as a sort of Shakespearean tragedy, with Thor cast out of the mystical realm of Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), after recklessly leading an attack on the evil Frost Giants.
Stranded on Earth with his powers depleted, Thor befriends a human scientist (Natalie Portman), while back in Asgard Thor’s devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to take over the kingdom. The movie switches back and forth between the human world and the realm of the gods, but even when a horde of government agents attempts to detain Thor, the action on the ground remains low-stakes. The fights in Asgard are so effects-heavy that they end up being sort of a blur, and Loki’s motivations are similarly indistinct. Like a lot of superhero movies, Thor is an extended origin story that ends just as its plotting and characterization start to come together. “Thor will return in The Avengers,” promises a line at the end of the movie’s credits, and that’s pretty much all you need to get out of the experience