Sunday, May 8, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
THOR (2011)
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore and Anthony Hopkins

Thor is the god of thunder and, for those uninitiated (like myself) in the adventures of this lesser-known Marvel comics hero, this Norse deity apparently has a huge cult following. Wielding a powerful hammer called Mjlonir (which, oddly enough, resembles a giant meat tenderizer), Thor, as a character, is a balanced mix of hot-headed temper, arrogance and brooding charm, which are all "must have" qualities when it comes to Marvel action heroes.

Thor takes the age-old tale of sibling rivalry and ups the ante. Thor (Aussie newcomer, Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) live in a kingdom in the sky called Asgard, where they have been raised by their father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and mother, Frigga (Rene Russo, who has apparently returned to acting after a long absence). The relationship between the seemingly close brothers begins to fray when Odin proclaims Thor as his heir. When the coronation ceremony is interrupted by the Frost Giants, led by the red-eyed Laufey (Colm Feore, buried beneath layers of make-up), Thor goes against his father's wishes and leads his band of loyal friends in avenging the attack. Odin is outraged at Thor's rash actions and banishes his son from Asgard. Thor is ultimately reduced to nothing -- his power gone, his beloved hammer, Mjlonir, missing -- and is left to fend for himself on Earth, a planet he is unfamiliar with. He accidentally meets up with a group of skywatching scientists: cosmologist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Swedish scientist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their student intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings). They struggle to come to terms with what Thor is, while trying to help him return to Asgard and prevent Loki from taking over the throne.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane (Natalie Portman).
Despite the fact that there are six screenwriters credited (usually a bad sign), Thor is, surprisingly, a structured, cohesive narrative -- a rarity for films of this genre. With a running time of less than two hours, it manages to give you all the background information you need on Thor and his supernatural family, while spending just the right amount of time on Earth as he gets to know his new human companions. If there is one complaint, it'd be the lack of more interaction between Thor and his brother, Loki, before the former is banished to Earth. It would have made their eventual fall-out all the more poignant.

Under the steady and assured direction of Shakespearean vet Kenneth Branagh, Thor has a great international cast to rely on -- from Australia, England, United States, Sweden and Canada.

As Thor, Hemsworth has the same roguish charm as Harrison Ford or, more recently, Chris Pine in Star Trek (2009). With great comic timing and the ability to cry on cue, Hemsworth proves he's more than just a pretty face. Thor has given him a promising start to a career in Hollywood. The rest of the cast rallies around him, each giving a performance that is more than a comic book adaptation usually deserves. As the trio of scientists, Portman, Skarsgard and Dennings are all talented actors who make the most of their supporting (and underwritten) roles. Their camaraderie and chemistry with one another makes up for their odd little trio. Hopkins is perfect as King Odin -- a measured mix of menace and fatherly affection. Hiddleston is excellent as the scheming and mischievous Loki, a reluctant villain made to turn to the dark side by unfortunate life circumstances and devastating revelations about his past.

Thor is that rare summer blockbuster that is genuinely enjoyable both for its entertaining story and solid cast -- it brings to mind the recent Star Trek reboot. If Thor is any indication, this years crop of summer films are off to a promising start.