One of the biggest problems with The Hulk movies has been that it is really hard to take a big green dude with purple shorts seriously. Making a movie about a hammer-wielding Norse god who is prone to shouting “I AM THOR! THE THUNDER GOD!” and taking it seriously is perhaps even a bigger challenge. But unlike the Hulk movies, the filmmakers chose to embrace the absurdity of the movie’s premise and play along. The result is a movie filled with Viking pleasing, bashing fun that lacks the raping part of “raping and pillaging” in order to keep it PG-13. In other words, a brilliant kick off for this summer’s line of blockbusters.
The back-story of Thor is quite rich, perhaps richer than any other superhero’s, sine it stands atop half of the Norse mythology; adapted and bastardized but it still employs it when it needs it. The whole first act of the film takes place in Asgard, the realm of the gods, as Anthony Hopkins (who plays Odin) narrates decades of back-story involving a war between the gods of Asgard and the frost giants of Jotunheim. Eons after Odin’s victory over the frost giants his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) leads a raiding party into Jotunheim in search of some glory for himself. Breaking the truce between the giants and the gods. For his trespasses Odin rips him of his powers, and exiles Thor from Agard into Earth.
That such fantastical material is easily accessible to all audiences is primarily due to director Kenneth Branagh, and the ability of the actors to play it with a straight face. Branagh, is better known for his high-brow background as a Shakespearean director. He knows his way around an epic story and is capable of hiding the silliness of god-speak. At the same time he pokes fun at it and allows the modern audience to have a laugh. On the other hand, Chris Hemsworth is a golden find. There could have been no other Thor; he looks and carries himself like the mighty god of thunder.
After his exile, Thor lands on a desolate town in New Mexico where is instantly run over by an RV driven by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and a team of storm chasers. The humans carry the fallen god to the hospital and we get a soundly entertaining fish-out-of-water sequence. As Thor desperately tries to get back home and accidentally finds the love of a good woman who might teach him a lesson in humility. There is also the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (Clark Gregg), whom we saw in Iron Man, prying around the town and making it difficult for Thor to retrieve his hammer to save the world. Unfortunately, after spending a third of the movie in Asgard and the Jotunheim, the desolate setting of New Mexico doesn’t carry with it enough zest. Thankfully we are back in Asgard for the final action sequence.
All in all Thor is a pulp-rich, action-packed, movie to start the summer with. You need not to ask for more; just the fact that it is able to deliver something akin to Iron Man instead of The Incredible Hulk is almost a kind of a miracle. It did what it came here to do and it restored my expectations for Captain America later this summer, and for The Avengers coming next year.
As a final note: the film is in 3D. It is not bad use of the medium but it is still very hard to tell what the movie had to gain for being in 3D. So save yourself the extra five bucks.