Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: "Thor"

It's not an easy thing to convincingly portray one of Norse mythology's most important figures. In spite of this obstacle, relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth does an admirable and thoroughly convincing job as the Marvel-ized version of the haughty God of Thunder. It's a good thing too, because he's one of the few aspects of Thor, the latest set-up film for 2012's The Avengers, that comes close to godliness.

Opening with prologue that feels straight out of The Lord of the Rings, Kenneth Branagh's adaptation sets up the film's multiverse efficiently. Years ago, the terrifying Frost Giants threatened to plunge Earth into an eternal ice age, only to be stopped by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his army of gods (demi gods? super beings?). Now, in the present, Odin's son Thor (Hemsworth), in an act of foolhardy bravery slyly suggested by his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has torn apart the centuries-old truce. When Odin learns of his son's actions, he strips Thor of his power (including the ability to wield his mighty hammer) and banishes him to Earth. It's here when he - quite literally - runs into a trio of scientists, played by Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings.

And it's here, in the Earth-bound section of the story, that everything that's best about Thor comes together, even if the end result feels a bit slight. Whereas the opening is filled with portentous shouting matches, the Earth scenes introduce a vital sense of humor that very clearly lets us know that Branagh and crew aren't taking the whole thing too seriously. Thor's fish-out-of-water angle is executed with surprisingly fun results, thanks in large part to Hemsworth's completely convincing portrayal of a god completely out of his element. Along with Tom Hiddleston as the scheming Loki, Hemsworth's work is what makes the film the lightweight fun that it is.

Other performances aren't quite so entertaining. Natalie Portman gives minimal effort as scientist Jane Foster, while Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings make for charming, yet inconsistent comic relief. A handful of minor characters from Thor's realm are played with nice effort, but feel like afterthoughts. Action sequences are iffy as well. While they aren't incomprehensibly edited, Branagh shoots them in close-up, resulting in fights that are loud, but somewhat hard to decipher, and rarely engaging. Credit should go, however, to the marvelous (albeit campy) costume and set design; Thor's home realm of Asgard is rich and fully realized. Yet unlike, say, the first Iron Man, Thor never reaches a point where it completely immerses you in its mythos. Despite a good-hearted nature, and some charming, earnest work from its cast, the whole effort feels minor, rather than godly.

Grade: C+/C

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