- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hor may be more popular than some of the other Marvel superheroes who’ve already made their way to the big screen (like Daredevil, The Punisher, and yes, even Iron Man), but there’s a good reason why the God of Thunder has had to wait so long for his Hollywood debut: it’s without a doubt the most challenging adaptation of the bunch. That’s because unlike the aforementioned characters, who are firmly planted in reality, Thor comes from a different world altogether, and quite frankly, a movie version of the hammer-wielding hero seemed like a joke just waiting to happen. But then Marvel hired Kenneth Branagh to direct the summer blockbuster, and suddenly, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea. In fact, although it’s not quite on the same level of the first “Iron Man," “Thor” is a thoroughly enjoyable superhero film featuring a pair of breakthrough performances.
Chris Hemsworth stars as the Norse god and heir to the throne of Asgard, an otherworldly realm ruled by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But just as Thor is about to succeed him as king, the ceremony is interrupted by an attack from the neighboring Frost Giants, who have somehow managed to sneak into the kingdom in an attempt to steal a powerful relic. Against his father’s command, Thor retaliates against the Frost Giants, and as punishment is stripped of his magical hammer Mjolnir and banished to Earth. Discovered by an astrophysicist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) after he’s dumped into the middle of the New Mexico desert, the trio takes him into their care as he learns to adapt to his new surroundings. But while Thor is away learning a little bit of humility, his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleson) is causing all sorts of trouble as the new king of Asgard.
There’s a lot that Branagh does right in bringing “Thor” from the comic book page to the movie screen, but none of it would be possible without such pitch-perfect casting. Chris Hemsworth is everything you could want in Thor – he’s strong and arrogant, but has subtle hints of humor and humanity – and he proves to be an excellent leading man whose career will surely skyrocket following the film’s release. Still, the role isn’t as emotionally demanding as, say, Tony Stark or Peter Parker, and he gets a considerable amount of help from the supporting cast. Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson and Stellan Skarsgard are all great in limited roles, while Natalie Portman makes Jane Foster into more than just the typical love interest. But while Hemsworth and Portman may be the film’s two stars, it’s relative unknown Tom Hiddleston who steals the show. Loki is a much more complex and layered villain than the usual superhero baddie, and Hiddleston brings depth to the character in a way that makes you empathize with him.
The relationships between Thor, Loki and Odin also provide the dramatic core of the story, and as they’re quite Shakespearean in nature, it’s right up Branagh’s alley. The same goes for just about all the action that takes place in Asgard, from the lavish costumes and sets, to the opening battle sequence between Thor and the Frost Giants. Where Branagh impresses most, however, is in the handling of Thor’s time on Earth. It represents a major tonal shift from the heady family drama of the first act, but Branagh approaches the potential goofiness of the fish-out-of-water subplot head-on by injecting some humor into the proceedings, and it results in some of the movie's best moments.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Marvel production if there wasn’t some kind of connective tissue to the upcoming “Avengers” film, but while S.H.I.E.L.D. does play a small part in the movie courtesy of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, it doesn’t bog down the story like it did in “Iron Man 2.” The powers that be have thankfully allowed “Thor” to exist as its own entity (although it still fits in quite nicely as another piece in Marvel’s elaborate puzzle), and Branagh has taken advantage of that freedom to craft a really fun action movie. It may not be as epic as its titular hero warrants, but it’ll certainly leave you wanting more.
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The God of Thunder’s big screen debut arrives on Blu-ray with hours of bonus material highlighted by an incredibly in-depth audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh where he discusses his various artistic decisions in making the film. Also included are a series of featurettes covering things like production design and costumes, casting the lead actors, and designing Thor’s iconic hammer, as well as over 20 minutes of deleted scenes and a short film called “The Consultant” starring Clark Gregg that gives the end credits scene in “The Incredible Hulk” a little more context. Rounding out the three-disc set are additional versions of the film on Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital copy.