When I went to see Thor on Wednesday night, it was the first time since Iron Man that I'd sat down to a superhero movie without awareness of the canon. Okay, so I know the Norse myths, but the comics play with those a little so they don't really count. Not knowing the canon makes for a different viewing experience, but it doesn't make for a worse one. There's simply a lot more, "Oh, that's cool. I see what they did there."
Thor isn't a typical superhero movie, and yet it is. It's an origin story in that we see Thor learn his lesson and become a hero, but we don't see him struggling with his powers or technology the way Spider-Man, to pick a random example, does. He starts with movie with his powers. We get to see how awesome those powers are, and how impetuous he is when he has them. And then he loses them and is sent to Earth, and that's where the origin story begins.
However, the origin story is basically a side plot, which I think is really cool. The main plot, or perhaps the frame story, is about an impending war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. There are political bargains and backstabbings and outright lies, mostly from Loki, as is expected if you know your mythology. Even the event that shapes Thor into a true hero is a ploy to prevent Thor from messing with Loki's plans. And having the almost-war as the center of the story means that when Thor saves the world, he's not saving Earth so much as he's saving Jotunheim.
One of the problems with adapting Thor (and yes, I'm cadging this from the internet at large), is that the comic canon is … kind of loopy. Thor apparently speaks in aggramatical Ye Olde English all the time. One of the other problems is that Thor is a Norse god, who's magical, but the Marvel universe is largely science fictional. How do you reconcile magic and sci-fi, and explain Thor's language at the same time? Branagh's solution is brilliant in its simplicity.
First, don't take Thor seriously but play it straight. This makes for realistic humor and a genuinely charismatic Thor, rather than a pompous or omnipotent one. Second, invoke Clarke's third law on screen: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I'm not sure if the comic does this too, but it's brilliant. Thor is an alien who was worshiped by medieval Scandinavians, and his people use advanced technology that's never fully explained. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge connecting the worlds, is a wormhole generator. The 'world tree' is a series of connected wormholes, rather than an actual tree. This sits well with my "it's a metaphor" approach to most mythologies. This also lets Thor get away with using big words and outdated mannerisms: he's grown up in a Viking-based alien culture. Of course he'll be a little weird.
Like I said, Thor's a charmer. I buy the character as Hemsworth portrays him—hotheaded, gentlemanly, a little egotistical. Sounds like the Thor of myth, as I read him there. He's totally the sort to decide that the best way to get rid of anger is to hit things with a hammer, which of course is his preferred fighting technique. I also buy the other Asgardian characters as they're portrayed. Loki is a great two-faced character—kind, concerned, and honest one moment, and mischievous and selfish the next. He's like that in the myths as well. And Sif, the Norse warrior goddess? If you're going to write a badass woman in armor, Sif would be a good model. She's a dominant woman who's good with a sword and knows it, but is so utterly a warrior that none of the main cast, including Thor and the all-male Warriors Three, appear to even think of her as attractive, though she is. Go equality! I would also watch the heck of out of a Sif movie.
Speaking of women, we need to talk Jane for a second. I understand she was a nurse in the comics? I approve of Branagh's decision to make her an astrophysicist, though I've some quibbles there. 1) Not to slag on female astrophysicists or anything, but I found Jane non-geeky enough to be slightly unbelievable. 2) What the heck is her research, anyway, that she's trying to find aurora in New Mexico? Minor quibbles, though, because hey, you kind of have to go with the flow, with Hollywood. Overall, though, I really liked Jane. She was a believable person. She's wrestling with physical attraction to Thor and what to do about it, rather than falling in love at first sight. She's not deliberately imperiled by the bad guys. She's smart and keeps her head in crises. She's helping Thor as much because she likes him as because she wants her research back. And Thor's relationship with her is the same—tentative attraction, but most camaraderie and respect. Again, go equality and empowerment! It's nice seeing women who aren't helpless.
So yes, I liked Thor, and I'm interested in seeing how he fits into the Avengers next summer. I predict personality clashes galore, but that's okay. They're fun. I don't think Thor's my favourite superhero ever, but like all Marvel heroes I've encountered, I'll gladly dip toes into his fandom.