Hammer Time!

‘Thor’ A Superbly
Crafted Action Flick

When I heard that Kenneth Branagh, the Shakespearian actor and director who has been called the Lawrence Oliver of his generation, was directing the new superhero movie “Thor” my thoughtful and heartfelt reaction was “Whaba-wha?”

I was dumbfounded as to why Branagh would want anything to do with one of the goofier characters from Marvel Comics’ stable of supercharged heroes, the actual Norse god of thunder cast down to slum it out with we mere mortals here on Earth.

The move turned out to be genius as Branagh kicks off the summer movie season with a superbly crafted action flick that is fun, heartfelt and somehow pulls off the greatest trick of all, making Thor one of the coolest superheroes around. The story involving royalty, betrayal and the discovery of humility is actually quite Shakespearian and it is during the power struggles and plotting of the gods that Branagh finds himself safely within his wheelhouse.

First of all, the gods aren’t really gods, but instead are ageless aliens with the power to transport between planets. Somehow I find this comfortingly more plausible.

Thor (played with loads of charm and bravado to spare by Chris Hemsworth) is the cocky and spoiled son of the king of the planet Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, who has entirely too much fun playing this part). When Thor, armed with his mighty hammer, provokes a war with a planet full of Frost Giants, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth.

He lands in the desert outside of a tiny town in New Mexico where he is discovered by a couple of astrophysicists Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and their comic-relief-providing intern Darcy (Kat Dennings). But Thor doesn’t land alone, Odin sent along his magical hammer which imbeds itself, sword-in-the-stone style, into a crater in the desert, only to be retrieved by Thor when he proves himself worthy


As you would expect there is a bit of a culture clash when a Norse god finds himself in the desert southwest and it is in these scenes where “Thor” scores most of its laughs. This is also when Thor acquires his requisite love interest as Portman and Hemsworth are simply too good looking to not fall for each other.

Back in Asgard things get complicated when Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes a play for the throne and the fate of the entire universe is dependant on the god of thunder getting his act together.

Visually “Thor” is stunning as Branagh, a special effects neophyte, proves quite adept at putting together an action sequence or twelve. But really as much credit should go to the cast for making “Thor” work, as they manage to suck all the cynicism out of their characters which helps infuse the movie with a sense of innocence and wonder.

Hemsworth is undoubtedly a star in the making as he completely sells Thor’s organic (albeit a bit hurried) transformation from self-centered jerk to a selfless, noble warrior. Skarsgard, Portman and Hopkins all serve to give the movie just the right amount of weight and help exorcise the silliness inherent in the story.

“Thor” does primarily exist to help set up next summer’s superhero extravaganza “The Avengers” where Thor will team up with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America. However, “Thor” stands completely on its own as its own movie and proves to be an excellent addition to the superhero genre, harkening back to the awe-inspiring simplicity of the original 1978 “Superman.”

Summer 2011 is off to a thundering start; let’s just hope the rest of the blockbusters are up to the task.

“Thor” is rated PG-13 for intense action sequences and some language.

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