Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: May 6, 2011 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
The first major tent-pole of the summer is a sonorous, if stimulatingly digitized (in sharp 3D format) action-adventure from another actor-turned-director (like Iron Man). Some may agree that it's the best comic-book movie since the one that rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr.'s career. But, probably closer to Spider-Man which really ignited much success back into the super-hero genre.
Kenneth Branaugh's Thor stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, and is fairly well-balanced from its elements which include familial tension, fantasy, adventure and romance.
One of the lesser known of the Marvel Comics (in print since 1962) is given the high-tech treatment like the recent Tron: Legacy. Like that souped-up cinema from a video game, some may find it to be more of a commercialized gaming enterprise than the medium into which it's been adapted.
Still, this requisite "origin" tale sets up the necessary conflict (from the alter ego of partially disabled Dr. Donald Blake) and establishes a viable connection with the studio's other releases like the upcoming Captain America leading to next year's The Avengers. As there are appearances by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.
From the dominion of Asgard, Hopkins's King Odin has intentions give his arrogant, powerful son (Norse god of Thunder) Thor (a well-cast Hemsworth who appeared in Star Trek) his throne. But, when the careless maverick brawls his way into trouble with an old adversary, he is banished to Midgard (Earth) to live an ordinary life among humans.
The rather conventional, perhaps not very well-developed story, often distracted by the film's look-at-me nature, relates the importance of heroism. Especially, when the most malevolent from Thor's realm puts Earth in jeopardy. It's not nice to rile up the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, so this gradually thoughtful protagonist will need to go through his course of anger management and humbleness.
Life in New Mexico is an adjustment for the cocky, buff guy, but is helped by astrophysicists like Jane (the ubiquitous Portman) and her mentor Erik (Skarsgaard) tending to atmospheric disturbances. Pursuing Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) from a shadowy SHIELD (from Iron Man 2 and more briefly in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) agency keeps the scientists on their toes about an unliftable hammer while Thor's younger half-brother brother Loki, a haughty Hiddleston, has deep, dark aspirations for the kingdom. Of course, there are reinforcements heading to Earth, allies as played by Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, and Ray Stevenson.
The contrast between New Mexico and an increasingly turbulent realm may be imposed in too much of an antiseptic, whizzy way. Branaugh, like a Jon Favreau, is sure-handed enough to provide a witty, off-the-cuff, feel to many scenes to stay interested in what becomes action-packed. Most notably, in the Aussie Hemsworth and Hiddleston, who look to break through with insightful turns of the roguish bravado variety, in lighter and darker shades of their role-making personalities, respectively.
Hopkins (The Rite) can probably do this part with imperial, regal fervor in his sleep, and an enamored Portman is more of a reactive type and less of a character with plenty of scientific knowledge to spot out as the likely love interest. Even though she shares some good on-screen moments with Hemsworth. Kat Dennings of Nick and Norah helps in the comic relief department as Jane's wisecracking assistant.
As the screenwriters straighten out the various narrative knots, it may be harder to identify some of the other performers. In the mind of a Shakespearian lover like Branaugh it all probably doesn't matter. From the battle armor, bronze towers, and a humungous deadly (Destroyer) robot, there is much ambition into the design of Thor with good visuals from Asgard's hallways to the striking interconnected celestial portal of three worlds, including the barren, frozen Jotunheim.
Yet, for all of the weight human and heavenly drama appropriately lightened up as our thoughtful hero is determined to retrieve his Mjolnir hammer, it ends up a little less dazzling than other initially largely mounted Marvel-ous ventures (read Iron Man). Yet, exciting enough to desire what invariably and thunderously will return.