Movie Review: Thor (PG-13)

thorA God Among Men 

Superhero season is upon us, and kicking it off is Thor, a light and mostly enjoyable romp that wears its silliness on its glittering, armored sleeve.

by Jared Peterson

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard, an otherworldly realm of golden hues and Flash Gordon architecture that is home to the gods of the Norse pantheon. Thor is an arrogant and impulsive deity, and his ego sparks a battle with the Jotun, a menacing race of frost giants with whom the Asgardians have maintained an uneasy peace. Wielding a cocky grin and a mighty hammer called Mjolnir, he tears through dozens of the big blue baddies before being stopped by his father, Asgard’s king, Odin (the unassailably awesome Anthony Hopkins). As punishment, Odin takes away his toy and banishes him to Earth.

Supernatural pyrotechnics and run-of-the-mill fisticuffs

Thor hits the ground in the New Mexico desert and gets winged by a truck carrying Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a physicist searching for evidence of cross-dimensional portals. Cast among mortals, confined by humanity’s mortal frailty and its undersized t-shirts, Thor soon sets out to reclaim Mjolnir and his mojo. Jane soon resolves the buff, blonde man’s ravings about realms in the sky with her own theories, and agrees to help him. The hammer is being guarded by a Men In Black-style group known as SHIELD. (The semi-secret agency shows up in all the recent Marvel franchises, and will unionize the superheroes in The Avengers, slated for release sometime before the apocalypse next year.) Also in Thor’s way is his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), god of mischief and deceit, who meddles, schemes and double deals with the Jotuns and his fellow immortals to position himself for power.

From supernatural pyrotechnics to run-of-the-mill fisticuffs, there’s plenty of over-the-top action on display in Thor. But as in the Ironman films, a large part of the fun comes from a wry sense of humor that both mocks and tempers its far-fetched premises. Director Kenneth Branagh once brought a new canon of Shakespeare films to American moviegoers, and he may seem an unlikely choice to helm a comic-book fantasy. (Though, if you think about it, the genre certainly has its share of Shakespearean tropes: dual identities, smart and swooning damsels and clever rich boys with abandonment issues—just think if Hamlet had a hammer…) But Branagh has a way with actors, a sure hand with verbal comedy and a proven ability to tease out the subtleties of material that can be distancing for mainstream audiences. He brings out the best in his cast, and steadies the slightly wobbly script by TV sci-fi writers Ashley Miller and Zach Stentz and TV comedy writer Don Payne.

Look, this critic is secure enough to say that Chris Hemsworth is very attractive—undeniably, unsettlingly attractive. A superior physical specimen, his charisma must be darn near universal. (Single-celled organisms would hit that.) What Hemsworth brings to the table besides beefcake is a mix of swagger and sincerity that fit the character. Thor is a living god, a prince and a hunk—as a result, he’s also a bit of a pill. Not unlikeable—he’s cocky but courtly, arrogant but respectful. He plays the straight man here; his regal bearing and earnest, Medieval Times tone make for possible witty asides and visual silliness. Oscar winner Natalie Portman shows herself to be neither above mainstream material nor weighed down by it. Beautiful but approachable, she is arguably the most plausible version of the hot nerd in recent memory. Stellen Skarsgård and Kat Dennings also do well as Jane’s comically skeptical colleagues—Dennings in particular steals moments, if not whole scenes, throughout the film.

A brief note about 3D: It’s beginning to annoy me. Thor was shot in regular format; its extra dimension was added later, and as a result it feels like an afterthought. I’d recommend seeing it in good, old-fashioned 2D.

Thor is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. Lots of jolly blue giants get smashed and sliced and run through, and after an early battle sequence, we get a look at Odin’s empty eye socket before he has it welded shut. Thor and Erik share a drink in a New Mexico honky-tonk bar (and inadvertently teach your child how to put together a boilermaker). Hemsworth spends some time shirtless [though not nearly enough for some of my female colleagues], giving the audience an opportunity to admire the sinewy ripples of his supernatural situation. Near the end, there’s a passionate payoff kiss between hero and love interest, but nothing more suggestive than that.

 

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