[2012 Flash Forward: Following the unexpected success of 2008’s “Iron Man” and perfectly acceptable “The Incredible Hulk,” Marvel Studios continued its momentum for “The Avengers” with “Iron Man 2,” but it’s biggest challenge was to come with 2011’s “Thor.” Audiences weened on science-fiction could buy a genius making his own suit of armor and who knows what a different type of radiation could do to you so it could turn you into a raging monster, but Thor was another story entirely. Created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, Thor is a Norse god come to Earth to save mankind from itself. Not the easiest of characters to work into the movie Avengers world. And if Marvel Studios couldn’t make Thor work in this world, the whole project could have easily been a disaster. Add in the casting of a pretty unknown actor in the lead role and it’s without a lot of exaggeration that for me “Thor” was the most important film in the entire Avengers journey. After all, if “Captain America: The First Avenger” bombed, at least 4 of the 5 lead-in films were good and would spare us from “Avengers” becoming “Iron Man and his Amazing Friends.” Let’s take a look back at how they did.]
It only took about 10 minutes into “Thor,” the latest Marvel Comics book turned into a feature film, for a wide smile to form across my face at the realization that “oh, man they got it right!”
Another 30 minutes in, I was thoroughly convinced that Marvel has a brand new summer movie franchise. By the time the credits were over, I was already awaiting the sequel. [2012 Flash Forward: All lined up for 2013. Can’t wait!]
In the wrong hands that don’t get the source material, i.e. dumbing it down for the audience, Thor could have been a catastrophe and a “how-to” on the ways to not make a superhero movie. With the proper guidance, however, you’ve got the superhero version of “The Lord of the Rings” — minus Frodo.
Enter Oscar-nominated director Kenneth Branagh, who has honed his craft directing and acting Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and “Hamlet” and could handle the task of delivering a fun, summer blockbuster with the necessary amount of drama to make “Thor” as viable a character as “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” before him. [2012 Flash Forward: A perfect choice for director for a comic character that seems like an ideal fit in a Shakespearean play.]
It helps to have a cast with Oscar-winning actors Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and on-the-rise actors in Chris Hemsworth (“Star Trek”) and Tom Hiddleston (“Wallander”), each ready to achieve super stardom with breakout performances. [2012 Flash Forward: After “Avengers,” expect their career trajectory to soar even further.]
Rather than a long, tedious origin setup before getting to the fun, comic-book action, Branagh’s opening act features a massive battle between the Frost Giants and the Asgardians, led by their ruler, Odin (Hopkins). Odin retells the tale to his sons, Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Hiddleston), who long for the chance to prove to their father that they are worth successors to the throne.
Branagh shows the full power of Thor, who topples one giant after another with the aid of his invincible hammer, Mjolnir, and brashly taunts his foes for a real challenge. [2012 Flash Forward: Starting off with a big battle and Thor showing off his powers complete with twirling hammer was the best way to make audiences realize Thor wasn’t a chump who loathed having superpowers, but a character who reveled in it.]
[2012 Flash Forward: I completely ignored how much fun the rest of the supporting cast was from Kat Dennings as the zany D’arcy, Clark Gregg as Shield Agent Coulson and the Avengers tie-in cameo of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. They’re a big part of the fun here.]
Just like the two “Iron Man” films and “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor” continues setting the stage for next year’s heavily anticipated “The Avengers,” which might be the biggest summer blockbuster ever considering how great the setup for it has been.
“Thor” strikes a mighty blow to the summer blockbuster season and will charge up audiences just like the first “Iron Man.”
[2012 Flash Forward: This was the real test for “The Avengers” and it proved to be a massive hit grossing nearly $450 million worldwide. Yep, these Avengers films just may have some legs to them yet.]
2012 Film Flashback rating: 8.5 out of 10.