Thor, starring Aussie Chris Hemsworth in the title role, is the first of the summer of 2011's super hero films and it starts the summer season off on the right foot. Thor's hugely entertaining, and even for super casual fans of super hero films like myself, it's hard not to get caught up in this story of a god who is banished to Earth after acting like a complete brat and stomping his way into a war his father strictly forbade him from instigating. As Thor grows into a champion worthy of wielding the most powerful hammer in the universe, it's impossible not to cheer for his transformation. And Hemsworth makes quite an impression, not only physically matching the description of Thor but also because he's able to command/demand our attention onscreen - as a powerful, imposing god should.
Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is ready to pass the crown on to his oldest son, Thor, but their ceremony is interrupted by invading Frost Giants who want back their powerful crystal. The timing couldn't be worse and the fact his passing-of-the-torch ceremony comes to a jarring halt sets Thor off on a tantrum. He may be a powerful god, but that doesn't keep him from acting like an immature, petulant child. So, with his sidekicks - Fandral (Joshua Dallas), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Hogun (Tadanabu Asano) - he disobeys his father's direct orders, crosses the rainbow bridge (which is more interesting than the name implies), and attacks their enemies, thus breaking a truce.
As punishment for ignoring his orders, Odin casts Thor out of Asgard, sending him to Earth to learn a little humility. He crashes to the ground not far from where astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is doing her research with assistance from Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and intern/comic relief, Darcy (Kat Dennings). After the team literally runs Thor over with their car, it's off to the hospital where Thor gets his first taste of life among mortals. After breaking out of the hospital, Thor spends time trying to convince Jane and her crew that he's not of this world and that he needs his hammer (S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can't move it but have it locked inside a secure temporary facility).
Meanwhile, Thor's jealous younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is up to no good. He wants the throne and all the power to himself, and that means Thor needs to believe his exile to Earth isn't a temporary situation. As Loki plots and schemes, Thor falls for Jane and he begins to understand the lesson his father was trying to teach him by sending him away.
Thor wouldn't work if we didn't totally buy Chris Hemsworth as the hunky god. We do, completely, because Hemsworth fully embodies all aspects of Thor's personality over the rocky journey from banished god to a matured, passionate ruler. Hemsworth's Thor looks like a fish out of water, a towering, sculpted giant walking among the people of a small New Mexico town, and when asked to play the humor of the situation, Hemsworth is completely up to the task. In one stand-out comedic moment, Hemsworth's Thor steps into a pet store, finds out there are no horses to be had, and instead requests a dog big enough to ride. Hemsworth's timing and delivery are perfect; he's equally as believable as an arrogant god who fell to earth as he is a stranger floundering through simple tasks on a foreign planet far from his magnificent home.
Joining him in the fun are Natalie Portman (better than the average love interest in comic book movies), Stellan Skarsgard (grounding scenes that could have played corny), Kat Dennings (providing funny quips when needed), Tom Hiddleston (a decent enough foe), and Sir Anthony Hopkins (delivering a surprisingly restrained performance). It's a terrific supporting cast, with Hemsworth as its solid leader.
The Bottom Line
Branagh's Shakespearean background fits nicely with Thor's storytelling. The film's basically a Shakespearean tragedy disguised as a summer super hero movie, with its battling sons, betrayal, the coveting of power, and royal politics central to the plot. And what Branagh and screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne have done so well with this origin piece is trim out everything unnecessary and stick to the meat of the story. The pacing's spot on and there's not an ounce of fat in - or on - Thor.
But, Thor isn't perfect. The fight scenes are too few and far between, something - as my husband repeatedly pointed out to me when I voiced this complaint immediately after the film was over - that was basically necessary in order to get the origin in and set up Thor's further adventures. Natalie Portman's Jane acts less like an astrophysicist and more like a ditzy school girl caught up in her first crush. Loki's a treat to observe for the first half of the film, but the ultimate reason for his rascally behavior is a major letdown. Plus, the 3D conversion is absolutely not worth the elevated price of a 3D ticket.
However, minor annoyances and unnecessary 3D aside, Thor packs quite the punch. The writing's sharp, the story zips along, and the cast does a terrific job of bringing this fantasy adventure to life.
He may not be the most popular of the Marvel properties, but Thor - the film version - has made a fan out of me. Bring on The Avengers! Speaking of which, there are plenty of Avengers references, though not so many that you feel as though setting up that film is the only reason for Thor's existence. And make sure you sit through the credits for a special Avengers treat - it's worth it.
Thor was directed by Kenneth Branagh and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
U.S. Theatrical Release Date: May 6, 2011
Also of Interest: Top 10 Action Films of 2011