THOR. 114 mins. PG-13. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne.
Of all of Marvel's A-list superheroes, Thor is probably the trickiest one to build a movie around. Given the vast mythology, ornate costumes, and awkward plot elements involving things called Asgard, Frost Giants, and "Odinsleep," the difficulty level to pull this one off is quite high. One false step and the project devolves into silliness and high camp.
This big-budget adaptation of the Thor comics is still silly and campy - I don't think there's any way around it really - but Marvel has a secret weapon to counteract those elements. An ace up the movie's sleeve, if you will. And his name is Kenneth Branagh. When I first heard Branagh was directing this, I thought it was an odd choice. Branagh is best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, like Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V. He's never really worked on this kind of scale before. But as it turns out, he was the perfect choice.
Branagh juggles the varying tonal shifts with ease and keeps the movie bouncy and entertaining. He handles all the effects work with aplomb, and treats the property with respect, even though the movie's tongue is consistently planted firmly in its cheek. Nothing is ever taken too seriously. Thor honors its main character, but also has a good deal of fun at his expense. Unpretentious audiences should find something to enjoy here.
The script has a soggy, fish-out-of-water middle section, after Thor (Star Trek's Chris Hemsworth) is cast down to Earth and stripped of his powers. It's in this section of the film that Thor is befriended by a team of scientists working in New Mexico, led by Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman. They help break him of his egotistical and prideful personality quirks so he can reclaim his mighty hammer and stop his evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from ruling the galaxy and killing a lot of innocent humans.
Hemsworth has a nice, easygoing presence, and is hugely likeable in the lead role. He nails the physical action and the comedy required of the character. Hiddleston gives the best performance in the film, and makes for a compelling villain. That's a good thing because the end credits of Thor suggest that Loki will be the big baddie in next year's The Avengers. Portman, beautiful as always, isn't given much to do as the love interest. I wonder if she'll even be back for a sequel.
I wish the movie had more memorable action sequences, and wasn't so silly at times, but maybe that's just an issue of trying to compare this to some of the more weightier superhero films like The Dark Knight. Thor is not that dark or deep. It may not be a great film, but it is an above-average comic book flick and makes for a decent first chapter in the inevitable Thor franchise. Mission accomplished Marvel and Mr. Branagh. I want to see more Thor movies, and I continue to get more and more excited about The Avengers.