As the first one out of the gate, “Thor” has set high the standard for this summer’s onslaught of comic book fare.
Fathers vs. sons, brother vs. brother, Good vs. Evil, epic myths, grand battles, races across space and time… they’re all here in director Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor,” a great piece of storytelling that honors the source material without feeling calcified.
It’s striking how similar the story of the Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is to of that of Presidents Bush 1 and 2. The father, a revered elder statesman who brought peace to his land; and the son preening, vain, and arrogant, eager to finish a war he feels his father quit on too soon. Except in Kenneth Branagh’s fairytale, the son gets his comeuppance, learns his lesson and becomes a tireless warrior for peace. Ah, perchance to dream…
Hemsworth snuck up on Hollywood in 2009 as Capt. Kirk’s dad in the opening scene of “Star Trek,” bringing a charm and urgency to what could’ve been an utterly forgettable role. That charisma is in full effect throughout “Thor” from the first moment we see him walking toward the throne to which he is about to ascend. With his fists pumping, carelessly tossing his hammer around, soaking in the adulation of an adoring public—this guy is due for a fall. But Hemsworth makes it impossible for you to turn your back on him, despite the vanity and bizarre guy-liner he sports through out much of the film.
Tom Hiddleston’s as Thor’s brother, Loki, the God of Mischief, is a master of palace intrigue, dropping hints, whispers and lies into the ears of his intimates, effortlessly moving them about like pawns on a chess board. Hiddleston gives Loki the perfect measure on “Who, me?,” keeping you unsure of his motives and endgame.
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Oh, and there's a pretty young ingenue in the film as well, an up-and-coming actress named Natalie Portman, who plays Jane Foster, a talented young astrophysicists who not surprisingly falls for our hero. In the past few months Portman's won a Best Actress Oscar, starred in a medieval stoner comedy and now played a minor part in a tent-pole franchise, the kind of role that would usually go to someone on the rise, but Portman gives Foster all her sexy, yet tasteful nerd-ness. She's having fun, we're enjoying it -- everybody wins.
But enough talk about acting and character and plot, this is a comic book movie...
Branagh’s battle scenes are crisp, violent explosions of color and sound that keep your eyes darting about the screen as you try to keep up with the Frost Giants, a totally awesome Asgardian Terminator called the Destroyer and the rest.
Marvel’s decision years ago to recreate their universe on the silver screen was a masterstroke of such genius, that they should be embarrassed by how long it took them to get to it. The arrival of Agent Coulson (the hilariously understated Clark Gregg) on the scene lends an added heft of gravity to the situation that only the viewer can feel, putting you at least a teeny step ahead of Thor and friends
There’s a ton of things wrong with this movie—costumes that look they’re from a high-end Halloween shop, too much of Thor in a T-shirt instead of his winged helmet, a grating abundance of pratfalls and even more endings—but the pace and scope of the story pull you past these road bumps with ease. Hiring Branagh as director was a gusty choice on the part of Marvel, one that paid huge dividends, as the man’s grasp of narrative attests.
And here’s a friendly reminder: don’t bolt as soon as the credits roll, because once they’re over, Marvel once again gives you a small taste of what’s to come.