Director Kenneth Branagh is the latest to bring a Marvel Comics superhero series to life, starring Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth in the title role.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
It’s hammer time at the movies. Thor, the latest Marvel Comics superhero series to bluster and thunder to the big screen, is overlong, jokey and energy-sapping as it constantly switches locales to and from the mighty realm of Asgard (which looks like Oz dipped in glitter) and rural New Mexico.
If the Kenneth Branagh-directed movie packs muscle, credit such plusses to its healthy sense of the ridiculous, lumbering CGI beasties and a winning, camera-grabbing performance by Aussie newbie Chris Hemsworth as the arrogant mythological Norse thunder god who learns humility when stripped of his powers and banished to the back of beyond by his mighty father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Crash landing in the desert, he smashes against the windshield of astrophysicist Natalie Portman and goofball assistant Kat Dennings, who promptly declare him one hot deity. Roaring “I’m the son of Odin!,” treating everyone around him like vassals, smashing up a hospital emergency room and storming into a pet shop to order horses, Hemsworth is the classic stranger in a strange land. He’s been stripped of his giant hammer, betrayed by his duplicitous brother (a snake-like but oddly sympathetic Tom Hiddleston) and stricken by his belief that he has lost the love of his parents, including mom Rene Russo.
Adapted lovingly and good-naturedly from the comic, Thor gains some Shakespearean heft from its themes of sibling rivalry, epic emotions and touching Oedipal conflict. Scenes between a strong, restrained performance by Anthony Hopkins and favored son Hemsworth are genuinely touching. In fact, the performances are among the bigger pleasures to be had here. Idris Elba is wonderful as Asgard’s gatekeeper and Portman’s and Hemsworth’s flirtation has lots of easygoing charm. But we go to these movies for spectacle and Thor brings it, all right, what with frenetic battle scenes pitting the hero against vengeance-driven Frost Giants and a gigantic flame-throwing beast called The Destroyer that looks like it might have been cloned from The Day The Earth Stood Still’s robot Gort.
Overall, Thor, which is shown in (but not filmed in) 3D, may be a mixed bag but it’s going to make summer moviegoers happy and lays the groundwork for the superhero-palooza that will unite Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Evans in The Avengers due in theaters next year.
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.