Thor is kind of a tough sell. Yes, it cost millions of dollars to make and totally looks the part, and yes, it's a Marvel Studios Production, which people tend to rally around. But this is Thor we're talking about. It's the first real challenge in Marvel's attempt to weave together a heap of different super-flicks right before next summer's The Avengers, where the whole lot will play a part. It's true that the first Iron Man was also tasked with familiarizing the audience with a new hero, but the one had a billionaire-turned-hero story arch that people were already comfortable with because of Batman, let alone containing Robert Downey Jr.'s career-defining performance. Thor, on the other hand, isn't even human; he's the Norse God of Thunder, who speaks in Shakespearian pronouncements, and has the look of a slightly less ironic Hulk Hogan. Oh yes, it's nerd fodder for sure, and yet here it is, mega-budget and all, trying its best to appeal to the masses, and pave the way for the studio's next silly super hero movie, this July's Captain America: The First Avenger.
So here's what they're up against marketing-wise, also known as the plot: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lives in the realm of the gods known as Asgard. Here, he is the son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and a powerful warrior, much loved by his people. But on the day that Thor is to be crowned the new king of Asgard, a break-in occurs in a specially guarded chamber that drives Thor to madness and revenge. Fearing his son's blood-lust, Odin strips Thor of his powers, and banishes him down to boring old earth, where he is discovered by a conveniently babe-ish astrophysicist named Jane (Natalie Portman). Thor proceeds to make a fool out of himself, declaring his majesty while rambling on about godly things of which no one has heard, let alone are able to pronounce. And so begins Thor's journey to humility, and hopefully back to Asgard, where his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sets his eyes on the throne.
As though Thor weren't a strange enough property to begin with, the studio placed the flick in the hands of Shakespeare geek Kenneth Branagh, an eyebrow-raising choice to helm an action flick, but it works like a charm. Nearly all of the scenes in Asgard are chuck-full of gaudy, olden dialogue, and its hard to imagine any film-maker more capable of straddling the line between parody and sincerity. Much like the first Two Spider-Man's, Thor is never afraid to admit its silliness, but doesn't rub your nose in it unless the time is right. The fact that Thor occasionally nods to its own absurdity makes the more straight-faced moments easier to bare. In fact, I found myself often favoring the Asgard segments, their visual majesty coming startlingly close to that of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (calm down, Shire-geeks, I'm not saying it quite gets there), glittering cosmos ever-present in the background of their golden surroundings. What's more, Branagh is no spend-thrift in the action department, his scenes of computer-generated battle being 'shot' and edited with tremendous momentum and kinetic energy, though the sound department did go a bit over-board with the eardrum-assailing audio.
As much success as Thor has over-coming its many filmic and thematic obstacles, it tends to wiff it when it comes to more common-place elements. The romance between Thor and Jane is all kinds of contrived, the two gravitating towards each other in a fashion that makes little sense with either of their characters, and gives the audience zero reason to sympathize with them as a couple. Much like Iron Man, the ending feels rushed, leaving a few plot-holes here and there that might only exist as a means of furthering the mystery of The Avengers. It's about as rare a complaint as I ever have for a movie, but I actually think Thor could have stood to be a little longer, as that would have provided more time to make its titular hero's escapades on Earth more meaningful, his love more justified, and the inevitable final battle more climactic. But in the end, I really have to hand it to Thor: it's a kind of goofy-movie-that-could, entertaining and exciting from beginning to end. When the summer movie season is over, I expect this to be one of the flicks I look back on most fondly.