We know this about Thor: Thursday is named after him. The movie doesn’t get into that. Too banal? Also, he’s the god of thunder, which the movie does get into, quite vividly. Perhaps more importantly, he’s been the property of Marvel Entertainment since the 1960s, when he became the cover boy for an odd but muscular combination of Norse mythology and comic books.
Now, in Thor, he’s an arrogant, impertinent %u2028warrior prince, played by the Australian actor and blond beefcake Chris Hemsworth. This Thor hails from a celestial realm in which magic and science, as he later has an expository duty to explain, are one. His father Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) is the king there, and he also does a lot of explaining—so much explaining, actually, that the movie itself gets fidgety and can’t resist cutting away from him. Odin’s kingdom has an uneasy détente with the frost giants from just down the galaxy. Thor hates those jerks and could go on fighting under-lit, incoherent, computer-generated battles with them all day. But his brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is more circumspect—maybe too circumspect. Something might be up with Loki, something untrustworthy.
Anyway, Thor gets expelled from his kingdom just prior to assuming its throne. He needs humility lessons, like when you run a red light and have to go to driving school. Banished via intergalactic wormhole, he winds up in small-town New Mexico (parts of the film were shot in Galisteo and Santa Fe). Although it obviously lacks the other realms’ production-design budgets, it’s not so bad. There’s a beautiful, available love interest, (Natalie Portman), who just happens to be studying intergalactic wormholes, and she has a Scandinavian advisor (Stellan Skarsgrd), who just happens to be familiar with Norse mythology. What are the odds?
Thor comes to us from director Kenneth Branagh and a veritable pantheon of writers (none of which seem to have made any particularly godly contributions). Branagh always seems to strain himself when reaching down into the barrel of populism. Here, he’s so busy counterpointing celestial, too-vaguely Shakespearean intrafamily feuds with earthbound fish-out-of-water folly that both elements wind up undercooked and the net effect is directorial insecurity.
Everywhere we look, it’s a mixed bag: Kat Dennings is utterly superfluous as Portman’s comic-relief sidekick, but Idris Elba is terrific as the stoic gatekeeper of the intergalactic wormholes. Thankfully, Hemsworth, at least as plausible a Thor as Vincent D’Onofrio was in Adventures in Babysitting, eventually wins us over with his swaggering, slightly campy Olde English pomposity.
Thor seems like an epitome of commercial filmmaking in that it’s less a film than a commercial: for its own sequel, for next year’s The Avengers movie, for the many multiplatform entertainment properties on offer from the Marvel machine. Let’s call it a success, for isn’t it the first rule of the franchise propagator to leave us wanting more?
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
With Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgrd, Kat Dennings and Idris Elba
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
114 min., PG-13