By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
He came, he’s Thor, he conquered.
Or, as Shakespeare’s Puck might have put it, “Lord, what fools these immortals be.”
After all, among his directorial accomplishments are a quintet of Shakespearean adaptations: Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and As You Like It.
Heady stuff indeed. But that’s exactly where highbrow Branagh is, delivering a superhero thriller based on a Marvel Comics character — available in (wholly unnecessary) Imax 3-D, no less.
Well, it turns out that Branagh has been a fan of this particular comic book since childhood. Go know.
Thor, based on Norse mythology and revolving around a character called “The Mighty Thor” on the comic-book page, stresses the action-adventure element over any thematic gravitas, and at least exhibits a comedic pulse, refraining from taking itself overly seriously.
But we’re still not spared being put off by a sense of self-importance as it tells its story of the titular warrior, played by Chris Hemsworth, a brawny but arrogant future king who is banished from the realm of Asgard and sent to live among humans in the modern world.
Thor’s exile is a result of his having gone against the orders of his father, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, and pursued retribution after a familiar enemy interrupted the proceedings on the day Thor was to have ascended to the throne.
As a result, he reignites a war (these Norse deities have kept the peace with the nine realms of the universe since defeating their enemies many years ago) after being egged on by his jealous and manipulative brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to defy their father’s commands.
Enraged, Odin strips his hot-tempered and disobedient son of his powers and sends him packing — to Earth — in the wake of his defiant act.
And Thor lands, it just so happens, in the desert of New Mexico, where he is found by a storm-chasing scientist (Natalie Portman), her assistant (Kat Dennings), and her mentor (Stellan Skarsgard), who overcome their initial, understandable skepticism and come to accept that he is indeed the actual God of Thunder.
So a bemused-by-his-new-surroundings diety in search of the misplaced Excalibur-like hammer that gives him magical powers and strength is, perhaps fittingly, struck by a romantic thunderbolt of his own and falls in love with Portman’s fetching astrophysicist.
Much of the film’s humor is of the fish-out-of-water variety, as this god-among-humans must learn humility and adapt to earthly ways.
But as refreshing as it is to have a chuckle or two along with ALL THIS BACK-STORY EXPOSITION, it sometimes seems as if the film is intended only for fans already familiar with, and enthusiastic about, the source material.
When you consider all the feuding and rivalry, the struggle for power among the gods, the material can seem downright Shakespearean — which may help explain Branagh’s affinity for it.
But the screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne, based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mack Protosevich, tries to cram too much narrative into a two-hour movie, so some of the characters, some of the relationships, and some of the subplots get short shrift.
Aussie Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding deity should raise his Hollywood stock considerably, given the showcasing of his physique and an ability to deliver on the physical demands of the role. But he might want to park that preening, self-satisfied smile in the garage for a stretch.
Although the immense, lavish, CGI-embellished sets are a sight to see, we wouldn’t really be noticing them if we were truly caught up in the drama and action, would we?
Thor certainly has admirable elements, including Branagh’s adept commuting between worlds. But too much anachronistic dialogue and too many moments of supreme silliness, chunky childishness, and sputtering special effects crop up for us to get lost in a satisfying narrative experience rather than be witness to a parade of glitzy moviemaking floats.
That’s why we catch ourselves — especially during the most god-awful moments, when the film resembles an antiquated Buck Rogers serial — wondering whether we actually have to be much younger and a lot more impressionable to enjoy the goofy proceedings.
So we’ll hammer out 2 stars out of 4. Thor isn’t exactly a Thor loser — just a very mixed bag.