Now available on DVD, “Thor” was the first of this past summer’s string of big-budget superhero flicks, one more in an ever-lengthening line of Marvel Comics adaptations. This one is OK, though its eponymous hero won’t be confused with either Spider Man or Iron Man. Various critics nicknamed him “surfer dude” or “frat boy,” not without some cause, though as played by newcomer Chris Hemsworth he’s closer to Schwarzenegger than Maguire.
The muscular Hemsworth is supported by some better-known actors such as Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, both of whom must have been in it for the money though both acquit themselves well enough, all considered. The big surprise, however, is the director: Kenneth Branagh, best-known for his screen work with Shakespeare, both in front of and behind the camera. Here, he blends his sense of spectacular stagecraft with a knack for getting humor out of apparently non-comic situations.
The most obvious of these is that of a god thrown out of one world and into another, “lower” one, full of humans who can’t quite grasp what the Big Fella is doing amongst them. The movie opens in medias res, as it were, with Thor falling to earth via what appears to be a tornado. It’s actually a “bridge” from Thor’s realm, Asgard, to that of astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman), who welcomes him to Earth by smacking into him with her van. She and her mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), along with the inevitable wisecracking assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings) are out watching for cosmic phenomena in New Mexico one night when they hit the jackpot, wormhole-wise.
Seems that Thor has gotten into a fight with his father, Odin (Hopkins), defied him by going after an enemy and provoking a war, and been denied his accession to the throne and sent packing. Thor’s younger brother, Loki (deftly played by Tom Hiddleston) has his eyes on the prize himself, and we rapidly discover that he’s not exactly a loyal subject. How Thor gets reunited with his mighty hammer and sets matters to rights occupies one half of the film.
The other, more enjoyable half details his struggles to accommodate himself to the odd little folk around him, including learning some table manners, dealing with his anger management issues, and coping with his feelings for that cute mortal Jane. He discovers that he can’t walk into a Pet Palace and order up a horse, for instance, and that he can’t whup up on giant metallic monsters if he can’t put the hammer down, John Wayne-style, on his facedown opponent.
Branagh moves this mid-section along briskly enough, which helps to balance the stodgy Big Battles and Big Speeches in the other part. The computer graphics are interesting, if not particularly ground-breaking. (Disclosure: I saw the 2-D version, since I’ve already had my fill of that silly added dimension and the mandatory rent-a-specs. How it will play on the small screen is anybody’s guess.) The venerable Stan Lee, Godfather of Marvel, even tosses off a one-liner from a pickup truck in a by-now mandatory appearance a la Hitchcock.
“Thor” is rated “PG-13” for sci-fi violence and some mild profanity, but there’s nothing here to endanger the morals of the young. It did good business, having gotten the drop on the string of blockbusters to come, and it clearly wants to leave room for a sequel. Be advised.