|PARAMOUNT PICTURES-MARVEL STUDIOS, ZADE ROSENTHAL |
Chris Hemsworth, left, and Natalie Portman are shown in a scene from the film "Thor."
As Marvel Entertainment ramps up for next year’s all-star superhero bash “The Avengers,” the trickiest part of the process is undoubtedly “Thor,” one of its lesser-known titles. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because this is the same Thor you might have learned about as a child, the Norse god of thunder.
Despite his superhuman strength, mighty hammer that only he can wield (and only after he’s proven himself worthy of it) and formal way of speaking, this Thor (Chris Hemsworth), when it comes down to it, is just a man, the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother of the trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
It’s a comic book movie with gods as characters, but “Thor” is, at its heart, the story of a father and two sons. Thor is the favored child, heir to Odin, the king of Asgard. But he is reckless and arrogant, his actions threatening to start a war with the dangerous frost giants.
To teach him humility, Odin banishes him to Earth, specifically the New Mexico desert, where he’s found by physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her colleague Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) and college intern Darcy (Kat Dennings).
Under the steady direction of Kenneth Branagh (an unusual choice given his reputation as the modern movies’ foremost authority on Shakespeare), the action plows ahead swiftly, alternating between the tumultuous situation in Asgard and Thor trying to find his way on Earth.
Similar to “Iron Man,” “Thor” has a light sense of humor that provides its best moments Thor walking into a pet shop demanding a horse, Thor and Erik bonding over a beer (or several).
This should be a star-making role for Hemsworth, an Aussie actor best known as Capt. Kirk’s heroic father in 2009’s “Star Trek.” He’s equally adept at portraying the imposing mythological warrior and the fish out of water down on Earth. With the movie light on plot and most of the characters drawn broadly, much of its appeal comes from Hemsworth’s performance. It's not up to the caliber of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, but it’s a good start.
Branagh has the tricky task of providing set-up for “The Avengers” and making a movie that is satisfying in its own right. I’m not sure he completely solves the riddle, but he succeeds more than Jon Favreau did with “Iron Man 2.”
There is a sense of fun about “Thor” that overrides all else. It never takes itself too seriously, yet sets the stakes high enough to keep the audience invested. It will be interesting to see how this mythological character meshes with the more reality-based Iron Man, plus Captain America and the Hulk, in “The Avengers.”
“Thor” is a solid introduction to the character, and the idea of encountering him again isn’t a bad one.
Greg’s Grade: B