Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Thanks to a likable cast and a decent story arc, Thor hammers out a very mild recommendation.
Comes a Norseman
Last summer Iron Man 2 ended with a post-end credits scene that set the stage for this summer's Thor. Picking up directly where that tease left off, it's time for Thor to reclaim his hammer. Forged from the heart of a dying star, it's not the kind of hammer that can be replaced with a visit to The Home Depot.
So how did this rare hammer get lodged in the arid New Mexico desert?
After a wiz-bang run-in between Thor (Chris Hemsworth, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) and a clique of scientists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Black Swan), the story backs up to provide the requisite origins tale.
It backs up, in fact, all the way to 965 A.D. and throws in some Nordic history, a Beowulf vibe, and oodles of CGI effects before taking a wormhole ride out to Asgard, a distant world of gung-ho warriors and over-the-top opulence.
It's on Asgard that Thor's family drama unfolds; he's an arrogant son of a hammer and his cockiness leads to a renewed war with the evil and cold-hearted Frost Giants. That, in turn, leads to Thor being denied his father's throne. Odin (Anthony Hopkins, a huge reason for that Beowulf vibe) is so disgusted with his son's carelessness, he banishes him to Earth.
Thor, Thor, Thor. Don't you know with great power comes great responsibility?
Balancing out the eye candy and heavy drama of Asgard, the events on Earth are more of an eye sore, set primarily in parched New Mexico, and the far-flung drama is replaced with a much more humorous bent.
Over all, the end result is a mixed bag that at times feels a little short on fun and a tad long on wind.
What works well is Kenneth Branagh's energetic direction. Yes, that's the same Branagh who directed magnificent versions of Shakespeare's Henry V and Hamlet. The family and political dramas on Asgard play out with a Shakespearean flair that's decidedly uncommon among comic book flicks.
And it's the fall and rise of Thor that makes him a more compelling character than might otherwise be expected.
As for Thor himself, Hemsworth does a good job with the lead role. He tackles the character with an appropriate amount of earnestness, finding a good balance that avoids cheese while conveying a knightly upbringing. And he carries an impressive six pack that was hardly in evidence during his fairly brief appearance as James T. Kirk's father in the Star Trek reboot.
For her part, Portman also does well. Playing a female scientist in a comic book flick can easily spell trouble, but Portman has the benefit of being a smart young woman in real life, so she can spatter out the gobbledygook and make it sound convincing. Once again, as commented on her work in Black Swan, when given a real director, Portman can do some great work. And Branagh does indeed qualify as a "real" director.
God of Thunder
So there's plenty to enjoy in Thor. That's a relief, particularly given Thor generally doesn't reside on the A-list of Marvel heroes.
But there are some cringe-inducing moments. Most notably, when a handful of Thor's best friends and battle mates arrive on Earth, the proceedings feel an awful lot like those Capital One credit card commercials with the well-meaning, but destructive, Norsemen paying for their kids' damages.
What's in your wallet?
Alas, the Norsemen are too aware of Earth culture to generate much in the way of a fish-out-of-water shtick, so their appearance falls flat. Particularly since they don't do all that much when they arrive on Earth to save Thor's rear. There's an awkwardness in the staging of some of the action scenes in New Mexico that seems half baked and a bit disappointing, particularly in comparison to the lavishly staged battles with the Frost Giants back on their frozen tundra.
That tinge of disappointment grows into a heavier sense of irrelevance amidst the whole affair and the events do less to set the stage for a Thor sequel and more for Thor's appearance in next year's The Avengers. Filming of that comic book opus recently got underway with Joss Whedon at the helm; stay through the end credits for an interesting tease of what's to come.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.