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Reviewed by Alan J. Porter, © 2011

Format: Movie
By:   Kenneth Branagh (director)
Genre:   Superhero movie
Review Date:   May 09, 2011

"We drank, we fought; he made his ancestors proud -- Thor."

To be honest I've ever been a big Thor fan. Probably the only time I read the comic book series on a regular basis was during Walt Simonson's seminal run (1983-1986). Perhaps this was an advantage, as I went into this movie with more of an open mind than for other Marvel movies; I had no real attachment to any personal view of how the character should be portrayed.

I was pleasantly surprised with what turned out to be a worthy addition to the growing Marvel movieverse.

While not the best Marvel movie to date (The first Iron Man still holds that honor) this was about as good a Thor movie as it's perhaps possible to make. The underlying problem with the Thor mythos is that it has to balance two equally unbelievable scenarios, Asgard a realm of gods, and an Earth that accepts the existence of superheroes; a task hat the comics themselves often fall short on.

But director Branagh calls on his classical theatrical background and manages to interweave these two grand visions by playing up to them. This is a story told on a theatrical, almost operatic, stage. There are few if any quiet moments of reflection. The plot is somewhat basic and is thematic underpinning of redemption is plain for all to see.

The story revolves around arrogant Thor breaking a truce with Asgard's old foes, the Frost Giants, and being banished to Earth. On Earth Thor is the typical fish out of water, interacting with, but not really understanding, the humans he meets or their culture. Of particular interest is scientist Jane Foster, who just so happens to be studying a way to travel between dimensions, while the arrival of Thor;s hammer draws the interest of S.H.I.E.L.D.

While well cast, the actors don't have too much to do as the script lacks any real characterization. In places the narrative takes some sudden leaps in logic in order to keep the pace moving.

For instance, ThorÕs heroic moment of truth happens too suddenly and his declaration to protect the Earth and work with the agents of SHIELD appears to come out of nowhere. But this is not a character driven movie. It's all about the plot, the action and the spectacle.

And it is spectacular. Asgard looks godly and otherworldly, and some of the vistas would have done Thor co-creator, and original artist, Jack Kirby proud. The movie also transfers some of the iconic Thor images from page to screen. Thor swirling his hammer never looked so good.

Talking of looking good, Chris Hemsworth looks like he was born to play this part. He simply looks and acts just as I would imagine Thor would. He also has great screen presence, dominating every scene he is in, and carrying the weight of the movie of his well-muscled shoulders.

Stellan Skarsgard was a standout as the Scandinavian scientist who sees his childhood myths slowly revealed as fact.

Unfortunately, for me Tom Hiddleston as the trickster Loki does not really convey the cunning and menace for the role. Natalie Portman is OK in the role of Jane Foster, without being anything special.

The Thor/Foster relationship is better handled in the current Avengers animated TV show than here.

If you are a Thor fan or a Marvel buff, there are plenty of Easter Egg nods to the character's history and aspects of the original mythos. Of course, there is the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, along with a couple of other neat cameos including one that leads into the upcoming Avengers movie; as does the post credits scene.

But you don't have to understand these to enjoy the movie, the fans can smile in quiet recognition (as I did several times), while others are can just be caught up in the story and action.

I have a feeling Thor will be one of those movies that will play even better on a repeat viewing. It has weak points, but when it works, it works really well.

While awaiting the opening of the Bifrost, find more Alan J. Porter right here.

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