© 2011 Ray Wong

When I first heard Kenneth Branagh was going to direct Thor, my first thought was a typical "What in the hell?" Branagh, of course, is often lauded for his Shakespearean dramas. After seeing Thor, however, I can see how he might just have been the perfect director.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in the realm of Asgard. He's big, strong, powerful and charismatic. He's also arrogant. He's the apparent heir to the throne. When the enemy breaks a truce, however, Thor rages war against them despite his father's warning. To punish Thor, Odin strips him of his powers and exile him to Earth.

Once Earth-bound, Thor tries to find his way back to Asgard. Without his powers, however, Thor is just a normal man (but he's still super strong). Astrophysics scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) tries to figure out who Thor is and where he came from. Meanwhile, Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stages a coup against his father and claims the throne. He sends a weapon to Earth to teach Thor and the humans a lesson.

Through it all, Thor must learn to change his way and realize even though he is a super being (humans have been worshiping the Asgardians as gods for centuries), every life is worth saving. He must redeem himself and find his way back to Asgard to defeat the enemy as well as Loki.

Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) was on the verge of becoming a huge action star after his breakout role as James T. Kirk's father. Hemsworth packs on more than 30 pounds of muscles to play Thor. He looks the part. Best of all, he acts the part, too. His Thor is very much "in your face" arrogant and masculine, but Hemsworth portrays the Norse god with enough nuance and humor to win us over.

As his human love interest, Natalie Portman (Black Swan) is effective, but a bit underwhelming, especially compared to her tour de force performance in Black Swan. She is a good complement to Hemsworth's Thor, though. Tom Hiddleston (Wallander), on the other hand, owns the screen as Loki. His portrayal is more conflicted and nuanced than the comic book counterpart, and it adds depth and sympathy to the role. That's the way we love our villains! Anthony Hopkins (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), as usual, is in fine form as Odin.

Stellan Skarsgard (Angels & Demons) is great as Jane's befuddled boss Erik. Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) is cute and has some of the best lines. Clark Gregg (Iron Man 2) reprises his role as SHIELD's Agent Coulson with droll humor. Idris Elba (The Losers) is impressive as gatekeeper Heimdall. Ray Stevenson (The Book of Eli), Tadanobu Asano (Walking Home), Josh Dallas (The Boxer) and Jaimie Alexander (Love and Other Drugs) are all great as Thor's loyal friends Volstagg, Hogun, Fandral and Sif respectively.

Written by a large group of writers, the screenplay manages to avoid the "write by committee" problem that plagues many big-budget Hollywood extravaganzas. The story has an epic, mythical quality to it. The scenes set in Asgard are especially out of this world. The writers are able to mix mythology with science and comic book fun. The characters are all larger than life. The dialogue, while rather comic-book cliched, fits the story and characters well.

The scenes set on Earth somewhat pales to those set on Asgard. I blame the location. The human characters, while interesting and amiable, are rather flat compared to the gods. It's understandable. However, the writers didn't spend enough time developing the plot while Thor is on Earth. The romance between Thor and Jane is rushed and underdeveloped, and Thor's transformation toward the end is unconvincing.

Kenneth Branagh (Sleuth) is, of course, an inspired choice to direct Thor. Known mostly for his Shakespearean work, Branagh seems like an odd choice to direct a comic book action-adventure. However, given the rich mythological and epic story, and the larger-than-life characters, it's apparent that Branagh is the right choice. And he does a great job piecing everything together. While the Earth scenes are good, Branagh's direction really shines when the story continues on Asgard. The production design is marvelous, and the epic action sequences are astounding. It's like watching King Lear on Mars.

With all its flaws, Thor is a fine piece of entertainment. It's epic; it's funny; it's exciting; it's big; it's unapologetically Hollywood. And yet Branagh gives it class, and the fine performances by skilled actors such as Portman and Hopkins give it substance. Hemsworth is a great choice to play Thor, and he delivers. So what's not to love? A thunderous applause from Thor himself.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (based on comic books by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby)
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, mild language, thematic material
Running Time: 113 minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 9

Total – 7.9 out of 10

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