Rating: PG-13
Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo
Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne, story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, based on the comic books by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby
Kenneth Branagh
Paramount Pictures
Release Date:
May 6, 2011

Adapted from a Marvel title created by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby, THOR certainly had the potential to be cheesy, what with a race of aliens, the Asgard, mistaken by the Vikings for gods all those years ago. The mythology of the series is taken from Norse mythology, which posits Asgard as the home of the Aesir gods.

However, director Kenneth Branagh and the screenwriting team of Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne, working from a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, have come up with a movie that’s surprisingly winsome and enjoyable. This is largely courtesy of the charm of their leading man Chris Hemsworth as the title character. The actor looks like a Nordic superhero (he’s actually Australian) and has a cheerful attitude that perpetually keeps things on course whenever the mood threatens to veer into either pretentiousness, high camp or both.

With production design by Bo Welch and costume design by Alexandra Byrne that look like a more fleshed-out take on 1980’s FLASH GORDON, Asgard may be actually just another alien realm, but it looks like the abode of ostentatious Norse deities. Odin the All-Father (Anthony Hopkins) rules here, flanked by his two sons, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – Odin’s loyal wife Frigga (Rene Russo) seems to just stand by her man.

Odin is about to announce Thor his heir when Asgard is invaded by three frost giants from Jotunheim, their icy home. The attackers are quickly dispatched. Although Odin forbids it, Thor sees this as a great excuse to go battling (he loves a good fight), so he and his pals Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) cross the Rainbow Bridge (that’s what it was called in the mythology, don’t blame the filmmakers) to Jotunheim and kick some frosty butt. The ensuing diplomatic incident and the defiance of his orders cause Odin to banish Thor, hurling him to Earth. Thor’s mighty boomeranging hammer is tossed down separately, with Odin putting a spell on the weapon so that it can only be wielded (or even moved) by one who is worthy.

At this point, THOR goes into STARMAN mode, with the dazed Thor being found by plucky astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her older colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings).  The hammer is found by the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they can’t move it. Meanwhile, up in Asgard, a coup is brewing in Thor’s absence, with consequences that eventually threaten our world (or at least a small desert town).

There’s a weird dance going on in THOR, as the film keeps moving to the brink of going overboard in one direction or another, yet somehow keeps its momentum and pleasingly wry tone intact. Branagh, still most famous for his wonderful Shakespearean films, brings his ability to guide actors through non-colloquial dialogue to bear, with the result that the Asgard sections have actual dramatic heft and real intentional comedy. It helps of course that Hopkins is the monarch of the piece – he likewise knows exactly what he’s doing – and that Hiddleston as Loki brings a sense of genuine tragedy to a character who feels he’s been horribly betrayed.

Back on Earth, Portman seems to be having great fun and Skargard shows that he can cut loose as a regular guy with the best of them. Dennings injects exactly the right note of bemused, off-kilter observation amidst the strange goings-on.

The 3D is what it usually is when done by filmmakers who are competent but not named James Cameron – not painful, but not necessary, either.

Marvel fans will rejoice at all the references (including a couple of unannounced character appearances) to other elements of the Marvel universe, currently coming together in the in-production AVENGERS film. Most others will simply have a Shakespearean/Marvel/Asgard/alien visitor good time.

CLICK HERE: AX’s Exclusive photos from the THOR premiere in Hollywood

CLICK HERE:  AX’s interview with THOR star CHRIS HEMSWORTH

CLICK HERE: CAPTAIN AMERICA news trailers and interviews

CLICK HERE:  THOR news trailers and interviews

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