Thunder from Down Under.
The 2011 summer movie season kicks off with color, action, spectacle, and humor as the buff, boisterous, blond Norse god of thunder with his trusty magic hammer Mjölnir storms onto movie screens all across America. It's a hilariously humorous combination of Shakespearean credentials and comic book action, as Kenneth Branagh (yes, you read that right) directs and Sir Anthony Hopkins takes a supporting role in a tale of, among other things, brothers in competition and father-son conflict on a truly epic scale that still has enough personal human drama to catch your interest in the characters. I had given "Thor" my stamp of approval briefly here, but I just promised the Cinema-Mad Sibling a real (if quick) review, so here goes. Note: You don't really need to be familiar with either Norse mythology or the comic book in order to enjoy this colorful popcorn flick, so no worries.
The Norse pantheon of gods, led by their one-eyed king Odin the All-Father (Hopkins -- !), has defeated the brutal Frost Giants of Jotunheim and now live in (a somewhat uneasy) peace in their own divine residence of Asgard.
When you're a god, you don't have to worry about how to pay the light bill.
When Odin's hotheaded son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) impulsively leads his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his other divine compatriots into Jotunheim and embroils them in a battle with the Frost Giants, Odin is not amused. Indeed, he strips Thor of divine power and banishes him to the realm of Midgard (Earth) to live among mortal human beings to learn humility. While this is going on, though, there is scheming and political machination afoot in Asgard as Odin's strength flags and the Frost Giants grow restless.
Relative unknown Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth plays Thor with gusto and charisma, from his initial thoughtless arrogance to his eventual character arc of maturation, and he always looks like he's having a grand time. There is, for instance, one laugh-out-loud scene involving the defrocked god's enthusiastic response to coffee. Even in Asgard in his youthful cockiness, it's hard to dislike him as he swaggers into the room, winking at the girls even as the queen Frigga (Rene Russo) shakes her head at him in a charmingly recognizable maternal gesture of "You stop that right now!"
I didn't have any doubts about Hemsworth's ability to pull off this role; I had seen him light up the screen as George Kirk in the opening sequences of the "Star Trek" reboot, and I had loved him instantly -- had sat up in my seat and thought, "Who is that?" George Kirk had only several minutes of screen time, but Hemsworth managed to pack those moments with raw emotional intensity. I would almost have rather that he had been James T. Kirk instead of Chris Pine (no offense, Chris). As the exiled Thor, Hemsworth proves his acting chops, being able to switch effortlessly from playing the fish-out-of-water role for laughs to giving us all a sense of just how much he really doesn't belong in this world even as he begins to grow beyond the thinking that marked his initial thoughtless abuses of his former power.
Thor is fascinating, but just as intriguing is Loki, the trickster god, played by Brit Tom Hiddleston with a supremely feline cunning and subtlety. It is to the movie's credit (and Hiddleston's) that Loki emerges as a complicated, conflicted, fully-realized character.
The rest of the cast is fine if not occasionally great. Casting Ray Stevenson as Volstagg was a good move, as was casting the always-impressive Idris Alba as mighty Heimdall, guardian of the Asgard gates. I would be remiss, though, if I didn't point out to the Cine-Sib the appearance of Jaimie Alexander as Sif, the goddess of war. Usually I'd make a snide comment, but since my blog-name is in honor of another beautiful, butt-kicking goddess of war, all I can say to Sif is, "You go, girl."
It's not a perfect movie, of course. I simply couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to accept Natalie Portman as an astrophysicist. That her Jane Foster was supposed to be the love interest for Thor is a (boring) fact I can understand, but an astrophysicist? Stalwart Swedish character actor Stellan Skarsgård and sassily amusing Kat Dennings are underwritten as Foster's mentor and intern, respectively.
While most of the CGI landscapes are good (and some are spectacular, such as the starscapes of Asgard and Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir), the gods' highway is a psychedelic, shimmering rainbow bridge -- no, really! -- that reminded me of nothing so much as the rainbow road from the MarioKart video game.
Mad Minerva gives a grade of B+... or maybe even an A-. (For a lengthier review detailing why it's a great flick, see this.) It is this summer's "Iron Man," a rollicking good time that gives you interesting characters and a sense of fun that doesn't take itself too seriously. Watch for cameos by Stan Lee and Jeremy Renner, and be sure to stay for the bonus scene after the final credits roll. "Thor" was lots of fun -- I'll forward to seeing him again in "The Avengers"!
"Thor" runs 114 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some violence and frightening images.
Besides, I must give props to any action movie that has enough of a sense of humor to run this ad for itself:
Here's the actual trailer, FYI: