Throw in the fact that the screenplay was written by superhero scribes Don Payne, Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller and based on the story by Mark Protosevich and Babylon 5 creator (and comic book writer) J. Michael Straczynski, not to mention the fact that they cast both Captain Kirk's dad and Luke Skywalker's mom in the lead roles and you've got a geek precinct's collective wet dream come true just waiting to happen!
In truth, however, Thor, as adapted from Norse Legends by Jack "King" Kirby, Stan "The Man" Lee and Stan's real life brother Larry Lieber, has been one of Marvel's most lofty-speaking, sanctimonious and serious characters, balancing between godhood and superheroism, equal parts adventurer and prefabricated legend. In short, to keep from becoming so-serious-its-farcical, The Marvelous Ones needed a director experienced in classical high-mindedness cool and watchable. Without question this is Branagh's biggest budgeted film and will doubtless be his biggest box office gross to date. Thus there would have to be quite a bit of Studio Dictation to go with Branagh's creativity... and it's there, from the cameos by Stan Lee, Sam Jackson and Clark Gregg to the bank-draining special effects to the updated, yet still classic comic book costuming. It's all packed in there like PREGO, dudes and chicks.
But how is the film itself? Fun... if not quite Hamlet!
Thor establishes Asgard as a separate Realm from Earth with a race of advanced beings combining the antique with the technological and existing as a futuristic society of medieval warriors, spanning worlds in their own sword-and-sorcery kind of way. Years after "The Allfather" Odin (Anthony Hopkins) led the Asgardian defeat against Frost Giant king Laufey (Colm Feore), Odin's son Thor (the aforementioned "Kirk Senior", Chris Hemsworth) has grown up to be an arrogant and spoiled heir apparent. His exploits into battles of his own, leading his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into the fight, along with the super-hot war goddess Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and "The Warriors Three", Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandral (Josh Dallas), have made him a legend to his people and an obnoxious liability to his family. This, of course, leads morosely to his exile to just about his worst nightmare of a place to retire... New Mexico, man!
Lucky for him (and the plot), there waiting for his buff-but-bratty ass are researchers Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Luke's Mom) and their scene-stealing intern Darcy (the super-sexy Kat Dennings)!
It's not a stretch to suggest that the "Earth Scenes" are much more credible than the otherworldly battles between Norse gods and some strange corruption of the Na'Vi from Avatar! Here Hemsworth shines as the big guy with a tall tale and nobody to believe a word he says. Luckily he's better looking than most Romance Novel cover models, so he's endearing enough to the ladies to be kept around. Dr. Selvig, being vaguely Nordic himself, is a Thor and Odin fan since his childhood, so he's, at least curious... as will be the audience.
However, even with Branagh at the helm, Thor suffers from the strange imbalance in the needed mix of modern saleable action and adventure, sanctimonious sword-and-sorcery, comic book superhero quests and larger-than-life CGI war sequences. At times, even when Thor stretches from a realistic desert setting to something looking more like Tron, Branagh sells the drama and makes one believe they're seeing an epic even amid the over-the-top, occasionally oddball dialogue. At other times the story can't quite support the often incongruous progression of events and even more jarring character development. It's clear that the creators, both in front of and behind the camera, had major complexities in mind for some of the deeper characters, but these many facets never quite feel as connected as they should be, considering the sometimes disconnected dramatic evolutions of character. The necessary mix of divergent elements, though handled better than most directors could successfully manage to do, often collapses under its own weight, resembling less a Marvel Super Special or a Shakespearian Branagh production than it does a huge-budgeted version of the 1987 Masters of the Universe flick.
That said, when Thor's hammer meets its mark, it really works. It fits beautifully into the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe (especially when you stay through the credits for that now-ubiquitous after-the-logo final sequence) and succeeds better than most films could with such a loaded and many-layered plot. Still, Kenneth Branagh does a good job of balancing as many of these strangely connected elements and evokes some very good performances from the cast (which also includes very fine performances by Jeremy Renner as Clint "Hawkeye" Barton, Idris Elba as Heimdall and Rene Russo as "Odinswife", mother Frigga)! In short... Three and One Half Stars out of Five... in short... it's not bad. Although it's not quite Valhalla-worthy, you could do a lot worse than Thor! Next in the pipeline? Captain America, leading up to the assembly of The Avengers! No comments on whether or not we'll get an appearance from Beta Ray Bill! See you (and hopefully him) in the next reel, man!
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