Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, flirts with spectacular — unfortunately, Hollywood execs have them flirting too much with each other..
Someone tell the soulless, suit-wearing executive of suck who perpetually insists upon shoehorning a wafer-thin, nausea-inducing love story into each and every action-heavy motion picture that he’s basically dropping a turd into a pool party. The lasses and dudes who comprise the core audience have never swayed an uninterested buddy into attending a comic book flick by promising an underdeveloped, ill-conceived relationship between the ab-tastic lead and a two-dimensional replica of what a studio executive thinks a woman acts like. So stop it.
It’s particularly irritating because Thor , easily the most imaginative and unique among the recent mainstream comic adaptations, flirts with being downright spectacular when it’s not forcing its hero to act like he’s in a Katherine Heigl vehicle. Director Kenneth Branagh’s film settles nicely on the equator between the dueling hemispheres of “epic adventure” and “not-taking-things-too-seriously.” That he did so with a script credited to a mind-boggling five writers means he might have more superpowers than a thunder-producing Norse god.
It’s unclear why it took a literary MASH unit to triage the script, as Thor is steeped in mythology that’s been explored for centuries. Our titular hero, played by the divinely muscled Chris Hemsworth, is a deity who smites fools with a lightning-producing hammer named Mjolnir. He and his brooding, mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), are heirs to the throne of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruler of Asgard and one-eyed ass-kicker. When Loki goads the battle-hungry, easily-goaded Thor into breaking an ancient truce between warring kingdoms, Odin strips him of his powers and banishes him to earth.
Once there, Thor meets Natalie Portman. So things could be worse. The newly-minted Oscar winner plays Jane Foster, queen of unnecessary characters. Foster, who has her own even-more-unnecessary sidekick played by Kat Dennings, is an astrophysicist who hits Thor with her car. Twice. This is because the courtship must also serve as the studio-mandated comic relief. While on earth, Thor must learn to become a better man in about a day-and-a-half, fight against a robot that destroys things with its face and return to Asgard in time to save his Asgard. But not before he gets that sweet, sweet smooch …
From a rainbow bridge that connects different worlds to ice-controlling frost giants, Branagh’s trademark cock-eyed camera captures epic CGI awesomeness aplenty. For once, the designs feel inspired and imaginative and not cold and repetitive. Branagh also leveraged his Bard-heavy background into coaxing Shakespearean acting out of the conflict between Hemsworth and Hiddleston. While the former somehow funneled vibrant warmth and inexplicable believability into a fairly one-dimensional character, the latter simply stole the show. Hiddleston’s malevolence never spills into ham-fisted melodrama, long the vice of comic movie baddies, and the whole affair feels surprisingly engaging as a result.
Like the divine being for which it is named, Thor is a burly, slightly goofy juggernaut on a crash course for the sweet spot of audiences eager for early summer fare. Even an insipid, joy-free love story can’t spoil this Norse-splosion of fun.
Grade = B