Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.
“Thor” Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.
(Note: Mladen Rudman could not make the screening of “Thor.”)
“Thor” puts the hammer down on Marvel Entertainment’s canon of superhero tentpoles with a heaping helping of sound and fury that will take your breath away, if not your eardrums.
When my friend Dusty finally wheedled me into committing to “Thor” by dangling the carrot of IMAX and 3-D, I expected to hate the movie but love the look. With the possible exceptions of the original “Jason and the Argonauts” with Ray Harryhausen’s magnificent claymation effects, and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, movies based on mythologies are annoying and distracting. They’re hard to follow, character names are impossible to figure out and the story is one big cliche.
In “Thor” the cliché is rendered moot by terrific action sequences, spectacular special effects and really top-notch acting by its A-list cast.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard, mounts a raid on the ancient enemy the Frost Giants without his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) permission. For his indiscretion Thor is banished to Earth where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist investigating atmospheric disturbances created by the comings and goings of the gods. Meanwhile Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to hold the crown for himself as Odin lapses into dream sleep. Part of that plan involves dispatching The Destroyer, an unkillable machine that shoots energy blasts from his eyes (reminiscent of Cyclops in The X-Men) to forever rid the universe of Thor.
The movie oscillates between absolute seriousness and absolute hilarity as the pieces fall into place. In one scene Thor wolfs down a meal at a dinner and hoists a coffee cup, draining it. He finds the drink to his liking and demands another, smashing the mug to the floor in true Viking style. In another Foster’s assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), admires the ripped abs of an unconscious Thor and observes, “Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR.”
It’s all great fun but the universe hangs in the balance as Thor must somehow get back to Asgard and foil the evil Loki’s plans to enable the Frost Giants to murder Odin. At the same time he must learn humility and wisdom if he is to become heir to Asgard’s throne. A budding romance between Thor and Foster assures that of happening.
Yet that romance seems unconvincing. While it is clear Foster is smitten by the hunky Norseman from the outset, Thor’s interest strikes the viewer as remote and indifferent until the third act. And Loki’s evil intent waxes and wanes throughout, again until the third act.
Still, the virtues of “Thor” vastly outweigh its liabilities. Hemsworth turns in a breakout performance as the arrogant god who discovers his kindler, gentler facet, while Portman radiates humor and vulnerability in a way I have never seen in her career. Hopkins is his usual, larger-than-life self and Hiddleston effectively manages the vulnerabilities and ambitions of second-fiddle Loki. Special effects are top notch and the sound will rattle your ribcage, depending on how high the theater has the volume turned up.
On a scale of A to F “Thor” rates an A minus. It’s great escapist fun and more than adequately supports the upcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers.”
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.