Film Review: “Thor”

by Jason LeRoy on May 6, 2011

Chris Hemsworth in THOR

starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Colm Feore

written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (screenplay); J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich (story); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby (comic book)

directed by: Kenneth Branagh

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.

I freely admit that I am probably the wrong person to be reviewing a movie like Thor. It combines a bunch of stuff people get ultra-serious and nerdy about — the Marvel universe, Norse mythology, fantasy realms, upconverted 3D — that I genuinely cannot force myself to care about. I’m not really the fanboy kind of critic. But I do care about director Kenneth Branagh and this fine cast, so I’ll do my best.

So, okay: there is a realm called Asgard. It has a king named Odin (Anthony Hopkins). My main reference for the name “Odin” before this movie was the part in Anchorman where Ron Burgundy exclaims, “Great Odin’s raven!” But I guess it’s older than that. And I only know Thor from Adventures in Babysitting. Anyway, Odin has two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). As the film begins, Odin is preparing to transfer the title of king to Thor. But then some kind of war breaks out with some creatures from some other realm, and Thor proves that he is far too hot-headed and immature to be the king. Odin and Thor have a terrible fight, and Odin casts Thor and his powerful hammer out of Asgard and cornwormholes him to Earth. Despite the fact that everyone on Earth (except for me) is familiar with these names and legends from centuries (millennia?) ago, evidently they are still playing out modern-day in a realm far away from ours through some intergalactic time trick. Or something.

Meanwhile on Earth, Jane (Natalie Portman) is an astrophysicist who is conducting some kind of huge study on strange phenomena in the sky or some such thing. She is accompanied by Erik (Stellan Skarsgard), who I guess is an older and more experienced astrophysicist, or maybe a professor or something, and an intern named Darcy (Kat Dennings), a smart-mouthed Janeane Garofalo devotée (my inference) who doesn’t care about astrophysics and is just doing this for college credit. Well, Thor happens to rocket down from the sky right in front of Jane and friends while they’re out driving in the desert, and they end up taking him in.

As Thor adjusts to life on earth, the film mines his culture shock for easy laughs, but effectively and with restraint (it doesn’t devolve into Encino Man or anything). While Jane tries making sense of Thor, all kinds of shit is breaking out back in Asgard. Odin falls very ill, and the villainous Loki makes a play for the throne by somehow telling Thor that Odin has died and their mother, the awesomely named Frigga (welcome back, Rene Russo!), has forever banned him from returning to Asgard. Thor and Jane also begin developing a bit of a romance, which is cute but not nearly compelling enough to anchor the entire climax on (which is what happens).

Despite the general ludicrousness of the plot and characters, Thor is actually quite distinguished for a Marvel tentpole. It is directed with scholarly precision by Branagh, best-known for directing such Shakespeare film adaptations as Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet. He brings the same grandeur and gravity to the Asgard sequences he once brought to Elizabethan England. He is perhaps a bit ill-at-ease directing the modern-day Earth segments, but his winning cast bails him out. Portman continues displaying her newfound post-Black Swan comic ease, and has great comedic chemistry with the always delightful Dennings. And as Thor, the charming yet physically intimidating Hemsworth — all mischievous eyes and smiles, despite his giant block head resting heavily atop an impossibly chiseled body  — is perfectly cast.

The Asgard sequences are sumptuous and visually stunning, a thrilling intersection of art direction, cinematography, and CGI. And while the script has a few clunkers, Thor is smarter and more sophisticated than your standard summer fare. With its deliberate pace and reverence for mythology, it is decidedly not an ADD action movie. It is the anti-Transformers. Thor is a thinking man’s blockbuster. Oh, and make sure you stick around after the credits.

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