MovieMantz Review: ‘Thor’
First Published: May 4, 2011 11:58 AM EDT Credit: Paramount Pictures
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- “Thor-oughly Entertaining”
“Thor” Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Lightning strikes again for Marvel – though not as strongly as in previous years – with yet another big screen version of an iconic superhero culled from its vast library. But unlike 2008’s “Iron Man,” which was an extremely cool, vibrant and irresistible surprise that exceeded expectations on both a critical and commercial level, “Thor” doesn’t feel as fresh by comparison as it goes through the special effects-heavy motions. It’s still a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to start the 2011 summer movie season, but a weak story, a choppy pace and underdeveloped characters tone down the overall impact of the God of Thunder.
But where other Marvel superheroes were earthbound mortals who were either born with their powers (The X-Men) or acquired them by accident (Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four), Thor – whose comic book incarnation was created in 1962 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby – has more in common with the big guy who started it all: DC’s Superman. That’s because he’s an alien of sorts from a world of powerful beings who’s confined to Earth, and that alone makes Marvel’s $150 million gamble (its first in 3-D) stand out from the pack.
That unique perspective is both the best thing and the worst thing about it. For while there are times when the computer-generated depiction of Thor’s majestic homeworld on Asgard (and the grand battles that ensue there) bring to mind epic scenes from the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, that same otherworldly setting could limit Thor’s commercial accessibility with mainstream moviegoers who were able to embrace the Spider-Mans and the Batmans of the world.
And just like Jon Favreau seemed like an unlikely director to helm the first “Iron Man,” Kenneth Branagh feels like an even more unusual choice to take charge of a production as vast as the mighty “Thor.” At least Favreau had experience with bigger Hollywood films, like 2003’s “Elf” and 2005’s “Zathura,” while Branagh’s resume is filled with more modest Shakespearean adaptations, such as 1989’s “Henry V” and 1993’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
As it turns out, that’s what makes Branagh the perfect choice for “Thor,” since the Shakespearean tragedy that defines the biblical Cain-and-Abel style relationship between the Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their powerful father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) fits his sensibilities. And that dynamic is set up well during the imaginatively depicted first half-hour, as Thor – the heir to the throne – defies his father to lead an attack on Asgard’s enemies: the Frost Giants of Jotunheim.
But beyond that, the story – written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne – slows down when Odin strips the arrogant Thor of his hammer (the source of his powers) and banishes him to Earth. The comic relief kicks in here, as Thor turns out to be a very big fish out of water while making his way through a small desert town in New Mexico (which, admittedly, looks far too much like a Hollywood set). But the pacing of the 113-minute film drags during this time, and the romance between Thor and his love interest, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), feels too contrived to be emotionally convincing.
But Chris Hemsworth rises to the occasion with his charismatic and commanding turn. After his small-but-crucial role as George Kirk in 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot, Hemsworth makes good on his promise with a star-making performance, and he more than holds his own with the likes of Anthony Hopkins. Tom Hiddleston is also notable as Thor’s spurned brother Loki, but as written for the film, he doesn’t exude enough menace to make his mark as one of the great supervillains, and the full extent of his threat doesn’t manifest itself until too late in the game.
If the first two “Iron Mans” and “The Incredible Hulk” got the ball rolling on the “Avengers” film (due in 2012), “Thor” furthers the proceedings to such an obvious degree that it becomes the best part of the movie. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) has a more prominent role than in the previous Marvel films, while other cameos (which will not be spoiled here) sweeten the pot even more.
On the whole, the impact of Thor’s hammer doesn’t rock the superhero movie world as much as, say, “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Iron Man” or the first “Superman” (the latter of which remains the gold standard of the genre). But it’s still a worthy debut, and the fun vibe makes it perfect for families and moviegoers looking for a great way to start the summer. And if “Thor” doesn’t satisfy their fix, then not to worry: “X-Men: First Class,” “Green Lantern” and “Captain America” are right around the corner.
Verdict: SEE IT!
Copyright 2013 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.