Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne (screenplay), Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby (comic)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston
It’s almost hard not to write off Thor as the beginning of an onslaught of mindless summer action movies. However, with its welcome injection of humor and a toned-down scale, it rises above that classification if only by a little bit.
The best moments of Thor occur outside Asgard, the homeworld of its hero, in a small town in New Mexico. He arrives there much like many movie aliens, and director Kenneth Branagh riffs off this aspect quite well. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings alien customs (which closely resembles stereotypical viking culture) to such places as small-town diners and hospital rooms. In one hilarious instance, he smashes a glass down on the floor and demands a refill.
Thanks to the minimalist set of New Mexico, the humorous atmosphere that Branagh creates alongside the writers and Hemsworth’s inspired performance is greatly enhanced. It’s only when the movie switches back to the homeworld that it starts falling prey to everything Branagh appears to want to avoid.
Asgard is a realm of fantastic architecture and heightened colors, one that contrasts both scenically and tonally with what Branagh tries to accomplish in New Mexico. It’s as if he’s making two movies, only one of which he actually enjoyed. Thor is comparible to Iron Man in that little time was spent on the big fight sequences and much more was spent creating characters. The world may look chintzy, but the characters don’t feel that way.
In addition to Thor, there are actually some fairly big names present. Natalie Portman, continuing her “I’m about to have a baby!” bombardment of movie roles, plays the scientist Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest. Also on her research team are Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Demmings, both of which are superb. As Thor’s bitter, passive-aggressive brother, Tom Hiddleton creates a typical villain, but a believable one nonetheless.
Perhaps the biggest name in Thor is actually the worst. Anthony Hopkins overplays his role as the father of two feuding sons. Thankfully, his screen time is minimal. Once he banishes Thor after poorly staged (but well-filmed) attack on some ice monsters, he’s pretty much out of the picture until the end.
Thor has its share of big, dumb action sequences and big, dumb dialogue, but it’s hard to hate on because it actually pokes fun at itself a little bit. It’s not quite self-reflexive, but it’s not completely ignorant of the reasons it was made. It was made to be dumb, and because it knows this, it ends up being kind of smart.