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SPECIAL COVERAGE: 'THOR'
Review: 'Thor' A Smashing Success
By Tim Lammers
May 6, 2011
Thanks to a well-blended mix of engaging characters, super-charged action and adventure, and most importantly, a smart story that's enhanced -- and not dominated -- by impressive special effects, the mighty Norse gods are smiling upon "Thor": the long-awaited big-screen debut of the famed Marvel Comics legend.
Expertly directed by Kenneth Branagh, the introduction of the iconic character of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is not only sure to please the comic book series' faithful, but movie fans overall.
Entertaining from start to finish, "Thor" is mostly fun and light in tone, yet has the ability to subtly turn threatening and ominous when it needs to be. There's even some romance bubbling under the surface between Thor and astrophysicist Jane Foster
(Natalie Portman), adding yet another dimension to an already well-rounded film. It's only appropriate that Thor's weapon of choice is a giant hammer, because after he's all done with it, in its wake is a film that's a smashing success.
"Thor" starts in the deserts of New Mexico, where Foster, fellow astrophysicist Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their wiseacre intern (Kat Dennings) are tracking anomalies in the atmosphere. Without warning, a funnel appears to form in the distance, but unbeknownst to them, it's a wormhole that drops Thor in from the realm of Asgard.
Taking into account audience members who are unfamiliar with the comic, Branagh from there sets up the story with King Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) narration, where we get a history primer in Norse mythology. In a brief scene, we first meet Thor and
and his brother Loki as children, where it's clear that Thor -- the older, bigger, stronger and more confident son, will one day rule the kingdom of Asgard.
Picking up in their adulthood, Thor is about ready to be crowned king when a disturbance caused by an old foe, the Frost Giants, ignites the future leader. Enlisting Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his closest allies to invade giants' planet, Jotunheim, Thor wants hammer down, so to speak, to prevent any future conflicts. But when the mission goes awry and Odin needs to step in to prevent all-out war from breaking out, the angry king casts his eldest son out of the heavens and down to Earth as a punishment for his arrogance and reckless ways.
Befriending Foster and her colleagues upon his hard landing, Thor soon finds himself powerless as the mortals he's encountered. Worse yet, Thor is nearly defenseless against a vindictive enemy who follows him to Earth -- an enemy who not only intends to destroy the once mighty warrior, but the planet he now inhabits.
"Thor" effectively leaps back and forth between the worlds of Asgard, Jotunheim and Earth, and the sweeping scale of the realms and the universe in which they're populated gives the film an epic feel throughout. Asgard, of course, is the most majestic of the environs, and given that it's populated by a conflicted monarchy, nobody seems better qualified than Branagh
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-- who directed acclaimed big-screen adaptations of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," "Henry V," among others -- to helm "Thor." He's a master of epic storytelling, and without question, proved that he was the perfect filmmaker for the job.
Anybody who knows Branagh's interpretations of Shakespeare understands the actor-director has a keen sense of recognizing The Bard's humor, which explains why his productions have never come off as boring and pretentious. Avoiding the same sort of pitfalls here, Branagh with "Thor" takes a lighter approach to the material and makes it accessible to all audiences.
Perfectly following Branagh's lead is Hemsworth, who impressed audiences with his small, but pivotal turn as James T. Kirk's father in J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" in 2009. While arrogant and defiant at the beginning of the film, Hemsworth, thanks to some natural charm and charisma, keeps the character very likeable throughout the film. He's a superhero you want to root from the very beginning, and becomes even more endearing as becomes humbled after being disowned by his father.
While Hemsworth is clearly in command of "Thor," he also understands he's only a piece (albeit a extremely ripped and very large piece) of the entire picture, and gives everybody else in the core cast plenty of room to shine. Not surprisingly, Oscar-winners Hopkins and Portman make their parts look nearly effortless, while Skarsgard, Rene Russo (as Thor's mom, Frigga) and Clark Gregg (whose role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is expanding more and more as we draw closer to "The Avengers"), are flawless in their supporting turns.
A screenplay rich in characters even gives ample time for Thor's comic book allies The Warriors Three (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobo Asano and Josh Dallas) and Sif (tough and gorgeous newcomer Jaimie Alexander) to round out the cast with some memorable scenes. The film also introduces Darcy -- a character not in the comics -- who brings perfectly-timed comic relief); and is rounded out by Idris Elba, who has a strong presence as Heimdall -- the gate-keeper of the realms.
Hemsworth will clearly get the biggest accolades by virtue of his title role in "Thor," but not lost in glory is Hiddleston, who brings a creepy,
Michael Emerson-"Lost"-like intensity to the role of the quietly desperate, jealous and conniving Loki. He's proves to be one of the biggest benefits of having Branagh at the helm of the film, since the director clearly recognized the actor's talents when they co-starred together in the BBC miniseries "Wallander." Fans will no doubt be excited to see Hiddleston again, along with Hemsworth, in writer-director Joss Whedon's super-ensemble piece "The Avengers," which will kick off the summer movie season in 2012.
Not to be lost among the film's visuals (which includes a rattling, Earthbound appearance by Odin's Destroyer) is a stunning production design, especially in details of Asgard. The outside vistas are especially majestic, as is The Rainbow Bridge -- an extended pathway that connects the kingdom to the observatory which Heimdall uses to transport the warriors to different realms. Providing a steely contrast to Asgard is the cool, for the lack of a better word, planet of Jotunheim. Visually, the Frost Giants prove to be a formidable enemy, led by King Laufey (a barely recognizable Colm Feore, concealed under the leader's make-up).
As fans have come to expect with "Iron Man" and its sequel, an additional scene is tacked on to the end of the credits, serving as one more hint as to what's to come with "The Avengers." If what two of its members -- Iron Man and now, Thor -- have proven anything, this upcoming hero tale is going to be nothing short of super.