by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 6, 2011

Chris Hemsworth stars as the God of Thunder
Chris Hemsworth stars as the God of Thunder  (Source:Paramount Pictures)

"Thor" being a movie with a one-word title, my gut instinct is to post a one-word review. But that wouldn't be fair, so I'll save my final statement for the end. In the meantime, let's talk the God of Thunder, shall we?

Paramount and actor/director Kenneth Branaugh bring one of the more unusual and potentially silly superheroes to the big screen, all in preparation for his inclusion in the much-awaited ensemble superhero film "The Avengers," currently being directed by Joss Whedon.

Thor (newcomer Chris Hemsworth) is an arrogant warrior from the planet Asgard who is eagerly awaiting the announcement that he will be Asgard's new King and the protector of the "Seven Realms," one of which is Earth. It all sounds very "Lord of the Rings"-ey, and perhaps in a way it is. But Asgard is a shiny world of color and sparkle; like "Dune" meets "Flash Gordon," rather than the dour lands through which the Baggins clan travel.

Thor's father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is almost ready to hand over the crown to his favorite son when a breach in their weapons room causes the crowning ceremony to be interrupted. It seems two members of the race of Frost Giants from another planet have tried to get something called the "casket" back, but have been luckily stopped by a giant metal guard that zaps the baddies with light beams. However, the fact that they've gotten into their world pisses Thor off and he rashly takes his four warrior friends to the Frost Giant's planet to get revenge. Things don't go well and daddy gets pissed off, so in order to teach his son a lesson, he banishes him to Earth where he awakens with no powers and without his trusty Hammer.

This is where Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a physicist researching wormholes, who hits the God with her car just as a wormhole throws him to the ground. Along with her co-worker Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), the three introduce Thor to their small town in New Mexico, where they begin to learn that Thor might not be the crazy homeless person they initially think he is. Because, really, how could someone that hot be crazy, right?

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, things are going badly for Thor's family, as a traitor has been found in their midst. This news gets back to Thor, who begins to re-evaluate his past behavior and goes about becoming the hero his father always knew he could be.

There are quite a few twists and turns, some surprising, some not. The basic story is nothing entirely new, but it plays out like one of Shakespeare's best family dramas, giving the film a bit more depth than we might expect. In fact, "Thor" ends up being one of the better comic-to-screen adaptations since "Spiderman 2."

Chris Hemsworth isn't well known in the states, but got attention because of his godly physique. While the one scene of him shirtless is certainly jaw-dropping, Hemsworth is a dynamic actor who totally sells his character and, in doing so, makes himself a star. Portman doesn't have a ton to do, but she gives her feisty character a few extra layers of depth and a lot of charm. While it would have been nice for the comic relief of Dennings to have more screen time, she's always fun to watch when she's in the mix.

As for the Asgardians, Hopkins avoids chewing the scenery (which seemed his default acting mode for a while there). Even though he has a few moments of high drama, Hopkins' performance is entirely effective and weirdly believable. Tom Hiddleston--who plays Odin's other son, Loki--is also a sort of revelation, an actor who commands the screen with his looks and presence.

Branaugh's previous directing credits ("Henry V," "Frankenstein") allow him to take a popcorn movie and give it a grander feel than might be expected. His background in Shakespeare also helps sell the family dynamic of the story, and the planetary scope of the picture, indeed, feels epic.

Most impressive here is the production design by Bo Welch, which makes Asgard a dazzlingly gorgeous, fully realized world. The visual effects are top notch, as is the makeup, sound design, costumes, and the impressive cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos.

Truly, there isn't much to complain about here. The story is interesting, the characters are well drawn for a comic-book movie, and it takes itself seriously and not seriously in equal measure. In effect, the film establishes Thor as one of the more original and emotionally satisfying superheroes of the Marvel universe. This time we don't have to sit through another origin story where a regular man realizes he has super powers in the real world and sets about learning how to use them; Thor is already a warrior. He already knows what he can do. He just needs to learn what is important, and we are happy to go along with him for the journey.

My one-word review?




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Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.