Thor always seemed like he should be a DC comics character instead of a Marvel character. Now only the true geek might understand what I mean. DC characters, outside of Batman, were all all-powerful god-like heroes. Marvel’s characters were more human and thus flawed. With hammer in hand, Thor is virtually unstoppable. The battles of gods are less compelling than the struggles of humans. So I was delighted that Kenneth Branagh’s feature adaptation of the character brings humanity to both the drama of the gods and humans.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth, STAR TREK) is the arrogant son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, BEOWULF) of Asgard. When ice giants sneak into the castle to steal a powerful treasure, Thor seeks revenge, threatening the longstanding peace between Odin and ice giant king Laufey (Colm Feore, CHICAGO). Due to his ego, Thor is cast out, sent to Earth, where he is discovered by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN) and her colleagues Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN).
Hemsworth not only looks the part, but plays it very well. He embodies the superciliousness, dignified charm and physical stature that a god might have. This plays very well against Portman, who is giddy with awe over this ripped, gorgeous-looking god. Portman sells every silly moment she is given with such effortless enthusiasm. She makes the character better.
Now much of the drama of the film centers on the jealousy and madness of Thor’s brother Loki. Tom Hiddleston (CONSPIRACY) is another stroke of casting genius. He nails the mischievous crazed mentality of the character well. He’s not just a straight villain, plotting to take over the world. The cast also includes Idris Elba (TV’s THE WIRE) in the thankless role of bridge guard Heimdall. Ray Stevenson (PUNISHER: WAR ZONE), Tadanobu Asano (ICHI THE KILLER) and Josh Dallas (THE DESCENT: PART 2) appear as the Warriors Three: Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral, respectively. And because no adventure today can be without a female warrior, Jaimie Alexander (REST STOP) is on board as Sif. There is also Rene Russo (TIN CUP) as Odin’s wife Frigga.
For the geeks, there are some nice winks to the comics as well. Donald Blake (Thor’s human identity in the comics) gets an interesting mention. A future member of The Avengers has a cameo. Selvig mentions a gamma ray expert disappearing. As all Marvel films have, this time around the post credit scene is really worth staying for.
The conflicts between the father and his sons play out in classic Greek fashion. Branagh is suited very well at making it Shakespearean in scope. While the Earthly bound action is less grand, he brings humanity to the story of a god falling in love with a mortal and the value of life he learns from that. Because the conflicts are so classic, the film is follows a well-worn path. There is one surprise though at the end that adds nice characterization.
This simple tale is given a first-rate treatment. From the direction to the cast to the epic visual effects, the artists involved knew what they were doing and how they could so easily have walked off into ridiculousness. Strangely, I kept thinking about the He-Man movie during the film. That film had classically dressed warriors transported into modern Earth and was silly and stupid. This film so easily could have been that too. It’s actually an impressive achievement that it isn’t any of those things. Okay, it’s a little silly, but it still works, because you’ve having as much fun as the actors are on the screen.