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Rapid Review: Thor

May 15, 2011

All hail the mighty Thor, who has been immortalized in my mind since the 1987 classic Adventures in Babysitting, when his alter ego was a cranky auto mechanic.  The guy has come a long way.  Even the elusive Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh has come out of the shadows to direct the origin tale of this hammer-wielding superhero.

Branagh is perhaps more known for shaping the tragic story of Shakespeare’s  Hamlet than a comic book titan, but in many ways the directing of Thor  is a natural fit.  Thor, god of thunder in Norse mythology, has a back story and family tree just as tempestuous as the melancholy Dane of yore.  The body count may not be as high, but Thor injects an equal amount of mystery, awe-factor and humor to satisfy even the most hard-core Marvel fan.

Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding title character

Thor (played by relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth) has been banished from his wintry domain of Asgard by his towering father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) because, let’s face it, a proper son and heir must be able to do more than smash frost giants and terrify the minions.  He must also be a worthy and noble leader.  When Thor begins a bloody and unnecessary was due to his own hubris, it is the last straw.  Basically, Thor lacks humility and pathos and dear old dad wants to teach him a lesson.

Thor is subsequently banished to the most despicable and lowly place imaginable:  Earth.  Gee, thanks.   He lands (happily) amongst a group of scientists led by Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who manages to make the usual love interest role a step above damsel-in-distress, if still a step below Mystique or Black Widow status.  To give the screenwriters credit, they manage to make the scenes on dreary old Earth just as interesting as the Asgard ones, which is no small feat.

Thor has been stripped of his powers, but not of his chiseled and brash physique or healthy arrogant attitude.  He must learn to survive as an average human, while also fighting evil (duh) and locating his missing hammer.  I HATE it when I lose my mystical magic hammer.

Of course, there is more to the rumblings going on in Asgard than is apparent on the surface.  Those familar with Norse mythology know that Loki is the trickster god for a reason.  This family dynamic has few kinks to work out.

Thus, Thor is in many ways, a story that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the bard himself had penned.  It has all the elements of a classic coming-of-age story, wrapped in a war story, cloaked in a study of  decption and human nature.   Chris Hemsworth as the title character is buff but approachable, even if his Shakspearean-Lite accent tends to falter quite a bit in less action-packed scenes.   Portman is tough but also believable as scientist Jane, who manages to be likeable and unruffled by the fantastical happenings around her.  The rest of the cast is rounded out by successful and admirable character actors such as Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore and Clark Gregg (who has been a presence in both Ironmans as well).  Still, much of the scene stealing credit should go to Kat Dennings as the scientists’ intern, Darcy, who gets many of the movie’s best comedic lines.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki is also one to watch, with his intense eyes and even more intense talent.

Hopkins chews some Asgard scenery (with an eye patch!)

The movie was filmed in 3D and the effects   are used well in highlighting the whiz and bang moments that drive the story to its inevitable but hard-won conclusion.  The opening and closing sequences on Asgard are the most picturesque – it’s perhaps easier to create a new world than make the current one come alive in equal measure.

Overall, Thor  is a flashy film, but with equal amounts of substance.  It ranks up with Ironman as being one of the better Marvel films, if only because the filmmakers obviously took the time and care to flesh out both the story and the visual effects in equal measure.  The script by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne is conscious of the need to create thrills and chills, while also giving a nod to the time-honored task of creating an interesting and heroic epic that engages a modern audience.  It’s also downright intelligently funny (mostly in its first half), and refreshingly “wink, wink” at the Nordic cheese factor of the Asgard residents.

There’s really not much in the realm of deep and meaningful to be found in Thor, but that’s not a bad thing for the movie kicking off the summer action season.

There are some genuinely funny moments, as well as some shockers (no pun intended).  It’s a sharp and visually appetizing way to start off the summer movie season. 

P.S. – stick around after the credits for an important scene ( I didn’t and had to learn it from the geek squad online)…

Overall Grade: A –

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