‘Thor’ Thunders Onto the Big Screen – movie review

The History:
I have to admit I’m not a comic book or graphic novel geek. I do enjoy the occasional comic based film but I have never read a ‘Thor’ comic.

When I heard ‘Thor’ was coming to the big screen my initial thought was Meh! The idea of the “Norse god of Thunder” coming to a theater near you seemed kind of silly to me.

Then I read that Chris Hemsworth was cast as ‘Thor’ and I became a bit more intrigued. If that name isn’t familiar to you his face might be. Hemsworth appeared in J.J. Abrams fabulous 2009 ‘Star Trek’ redux as George Kirk (James T. Kirk’s father). Although Hemsworth only appears in the first 10 minutes of that film his role left a lasting impression and anchored the emotionality of ‘Star Trek’ in a very big way.

A while later I learned that Kenneth Branagh was brought on as the director of ‘Thor’. I found this a curious move as Branagh is classically trained Shakespearian actor whom has had a very roller coaster career as a director. His last large scale film was 1994′s ‘Frankenstein’ which was a critic and box office failure. I pretty much wrote off ‘Thor’ at this point thinking the hiring of Branagh as a choice similar to that of the hiring of an auteur like Ang Lee which resulted in 2003′s flop ‘Hulk’.

Don’t get me wrong Branagh has lensed a few films I’ve enjoyed like ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Dead Again’ plus he absolutely killed as an actor playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ but somehow I just wasn’t sure he’d be able to pull off the “tone” to make ‘Thor’ work.

Side note: I find “tone” especially important to comic adaptions. It’s a fine line a director has to walk that makes the film resonate with an audience without having it come off as too corny, too silly, too unbelievable, too heavy-handed or too distant where the audience just doesn’t care. Examples of good tone: ‘Spiderman’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Batman Begins’. Examples of bad tone: ‘Hulk’, ‘Elektra’, ‘Daredevil’.

So what changed my mind? Why didn’t I just wait for the Bluray release like I originally decided?

I started reading some good buzz surrounding ‘Thor’ in the weeks leading up to release. The word I kept reading over and over was: F-U-N.

Yes that’s all it took for me to pay attention again.

The Setup:
Paramount’s Official Synopsis:

Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment present the epic adventure, “Thor,” which spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and is forced to live among humans. A beautiful, young scientist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has a profound effect on Thor, as she ultimately becomes his first love. It’s while here on Earth that Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

The Execution:
Honestly, it starts off a bit shaky. Initially you’re briefly introduced to Portman’s character and her colleagues but it’s not long enough to make a connection. The story then shifts to Asgard where the backstory is delivered for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Asgard backstory comes off as a gilded and shiny Lord of the Rings mini-saga and it’s almost too fantastical and I was worried the film’s tone was going to swing all the way to the corny side but then the film switiches back to Earth and begins to feel much more grounded and less goofy.

Once the interweaving and overlapping stories about two worlds settle in, what could be a disaster is completely averted. ‘Thor’ really rolls along with a lot of excitement, spark and wit and regains that critical emotional connection with the audience.

That connection is mostly to due to Portman’s portrayal as Jane Foster who turns an a witty and grounded performance. Hemsworth does an admirable job as Thor and there is good chemistry between the two. It’s not in the same league as the sensational Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the ‘Iron Man’ films but it’s enough of a spark to ground ‘Thor’ and keep the tone just right.

I was also impressed with the overall performances from the supporting cast. There was not one over performed or cringe worthy moment; which action spectaculars sometimes lean towards. I credit Branagh for this and now I feel kind of foolish that I doubted his chops.

The Bottom Line:
Thor is indeed fun. It’s also an exciting and adept comic adaption that makes me even more excited for the coming ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Avengers’. If you want an enjoyable way to kick off the summer blockbuster season then ‘Thor’ is the ticket.

Rated PG-13: In theaters now.

ps – Don’t forget to stay until all the credits have rolled.

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