|Hemsworth only wishes he were working on the railroad.|
Thor, the herald to sound the coming of 2011’s summer movie season, is the kind of shamelessly overblown epic that you should have shameless fun watching. It’s a flick that walks a line between science fiction and fantasy, between hero’s journey and God’s burden, and manages to maintain the best of both worlds.
It’s a fitting way to tell the story, because Thor is also set in two worlds. The journey begins as the titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) is exiled from the realm of Asgard (where the Norse Gods reign) by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor foolishly and cockily dealt with the malicious Frost Giants, and his action led to war. He pays the price by being stripped of his godly powers, including his legendary hammer Mjolnir, and cast down into the
, where his frustration grows as he begins the search for his hammer and way back to the realm of gods. desert of New Mexico
By chance, foxy stargazer Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her two assistant (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) happen to be looking up at the sky when Thor falls to Earth. As they get to know him, and his ambition to reclaim what’s his, Jane begins to feel that there might be something else to the universe.
What begins as a kind of comedy of manners as Thor adjust to life in the human world soon becomes a struggle to reclaim not only his powers, but his realm, as Thor begins to learn there’s much more to being a leader than strength. It sound like an overly big, overly corny concept for a blockbuster to tackle, and in a way it is, but Thor and its bombastic, superhero backdrop is the perfect venue to watch a hero rise.
Director Kenneth Branagh, known more for his work with Shakespeare than superheroes, erases almost any doubt that he’s a capable of a big action adventure flick. He has an over-reliance on crooked camera angles to keep things visually interesting, but other than that he keeps every sequence tight, brisk and brimming with visual wonder (but not the kind of visual wonder that merits extra money for 3D; remember that). He also knows exactly how to turn an arrogant, hammer wielding god into a hero among men, and even when the film’s blockbuster sense of humor might get in the way, Branagh (with the help of a story by Thor comics writer J. Michael Straczynski and a screenplay by Ashley Mill, Zack Stentz and Don Payne) never loses the epic threads that run through this story.
Even with Branagh’s measured direction, Thor could have been the kind of film the degenerated into farce were it not for a strong cast to hold it up. Portman and Hemsworth aren’t exactly electric in their chemistry, but they, along with Dennings and Skarsgard, manage to juggle the flick’s many and often rapid-fire jokes with a sense of the gravity of what’s going on around them. Adding to the excellence are Hopkins and English actor Tom Hiddleston, who is a wonderfully cool but still slippery version of Thor’s trickster brother Loki. Thor could be the kind of movie that’s nothing but wise cracks, or it could be the kind of movie that’s filled with melodramatic angst. Thankfully, it’s a movie that contains both wise cracks and melodramatic angst, and another cast might not have made it work.
Thor is not a masterpiece, or a deeply moving piece of fantasy cinema, or an acclaimed attempt to humanize a hero. It’s a big, bold, thrill ride with plenty of laughs, explosions and danger, and it’s all the more admirable because it never pretends to be anything else. It’s a welcome addition to the Marvel Comics cinematic canon, made all the more welcome by a carefully placed titled at the end of the credits: “Thor will return in The Avengers.”