Theatrical Review: If our giddy enthusiasm to get out of the winter’s cinematic doldrums makes us love up on the first big summer movie a little more than it deserves, so be it. Luckily Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, based on the Marvel superhero, meets the challenge with plenty of Saturday matinee escapist fun.
We meet our latest costume-clad good guy, Thor (the strapping Chris Hemsworth) in his cosmic homeland of Asgard, a shiny golden otherworld, painted with a dazzling (if by now ho-hum) CGI splendor. There Thor and his pop Odin (Anthony Hopkins, appropriately gruff and growly), brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and pals-in-arms embark on epic quests and feast with Norse abandon.
But heir apparent Thor’s hubris and lust for glory (watch him take out a Frost Monster with one awesome kapow!) runs him afoul of Dad’s rules, and he finds his Nordic butt bounced down to Earth, banished and stripped of his God-of-Thunder powers, pretty red cape, and magic smitin’ hammer in order to learn a lesson in humility.
On Earth the buff and bewildered Thor falls in with cute New Mexico astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman gives the “superhero’s girlfriend” role a lot more charm than usual), her boss Stellan Skarsgård (somebody had to be genuinely Scandinavian here), and her comic-relief assistant Kat Dennings. There follow the usual “god outta water” gags.
Thor’s arrival down here also attracts the attention of the shadowy government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., represented by the always drolly amusing Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). (If you’ve been paying attention in the Iron Man movies, you know S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson, and his boss Nick Fury are the thread that will pull all these heroes, including July’s Captain America, together for next year’s superhero hootenanny, The Avengers. And yep, there are most-excellent Avengers cameos in Thor.)
Back on Asgard, silver-tongued Loki is making a power play for the throne, but to the movie and the terrific Hiddleston’s credit, the Norse Trickster God is a more fully realized and emotionally complex superhero villain than usual (closer in tragic-ironic nuance to Ian McKellan’s Magneto than, say, Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane).
In its final act, Thor falls prey to that weakest of superhero-movie weaknesses, the “now we go here, then we fly there, now zoom back here for this, and then lets run over there for that” plotting. There are frost giants, power doodads, cosmic wormholes (guarded by an even more wonderfully stoic than usual Idris Elba), something called the Odinsleep (comic fans will get it, everyone else will shrug and move on), and a hulking metal Destroyer that’s apparently been sent to Earth to blow up our cars. (All hail the big, orange fireballs of summer!)
All the new Marvel movies suffer from narrative sloppiness, but luckily, storytelling directors like Iron Man’s Jon Favreau and now the Shakespearean vet Kenneth Branagh give them enough humor and forward momentum to smooth over the bumps. The new Marvel Studio System also means most directorial idiosyncrasies and flair are also buffed out of these blockbusters—Thor sometimes suffers from a too-smooth, rote enjoyability and a feeling that everyone is just playacting at all the cosmic gravitas.
But while Hemsworth may not have the magnetic flair of a Robert Downey Jr, he’s been a solid, compelling performer in Star Trek, A Perfect Getaway and last year’s Ca$h, and he gives Thor a grinning, easy laughing, winking humanity that’s a nice change from the stiff, unapproachable deity of the comic-book character.
Thor shines a lot but doesn’t quite sparkle or soar into the hot-rod thrills of the first Iron Man. But if it never feels truly inspired, it’s also never dull. Maybe in this age of a new superhero flick each month, we’ve come to expect too much from what should be straightforward Saturday Afternoon Matinee joys. Hollywood wants these flicks to make a gazillion dollars, critics want them to be auteur-fueled explorations of deep themes, fan boys dream of The Perfect Comic-Book Movie, and the rest of the audience just wants bigger and flashier action.
Thor doesn’t break new ground on those fronts, but it does deliver several hours of solid adventure fun. After all, shouldn’t the simple delights of watching a Norse god smack things with his magic hammer be enough?
More from the cast of Thor at redbox:
- Chris Hemsworth in Ca$h and Star Trek
- Natalie Portman in Black Swan on DVD and Blu-ray and coming soon in No Strings Attached (this Tuesday, May 10) and The Other Woman (May 17)
- Anthony Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
More superhero fun at redbox:
- The Super Hero Squad Show Volume 2 and the just-released Volume 3: Quest for the Infinity Sword
- Iron Man on DVD and Blu-ray and Iron Man 2 on DVD and Blu-ray
- The Green Hornet on DVD and Blu-ray
- All-Star Superman, Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam, and Superman/Batman: Apocalpyse
More epic fantasy adventure at redbox: