Most people know one thing about Thor: Thursday is named after him. The new film adaptation of the Thor story doesn’t get into that, but you get to learn all about how Thor is an arrogant, impertinent, warrior prince. He’s played by the Australian actor and blond beefcake Chris Hemsworth. This Thor hails from a celestial realm in which magic and science, as he explains, are one. His father Odin is the king there, and is played by Anthony Hopkins, who also does enough explaining to test a viewer’s attention.
In Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gets banished from his kingdom via intergalactic wormhole and winds up in small town New Mexico.
Odin’s kingdom has an uneasy detente with the frost giants from just down the galaxy. Thor hates those jerks, and could go on fighting under-lit, incoherent, computer-generated battles with them all day. But his brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is more circumspect. Something might be up with Loki, something untrustworthy.
Prior to assuming its throne, Thor gets banished from his kingdom—too much arrogant warmongering—via intergalactic wormhole and winds up in small town New Mexico. Although it obviously lacks the other realm’s production-design budgets, it’s not so bad. There’s a beautiful, available love interest (Natalie Portman) who just happens to be studying intergalactic wormholes. She has a Scandinavian advisor (Stellan Skarsgård), who just happens to be familiar with Norse mythology. What are the odds?
Thor is directed by Kenneth Branagh, and penned by a veritable pantheon of writers —none of whom seems to have made any particularly godly contributions. Branagh, known as a Shakesperean, always seems to strain himself when reaching down into the barrel of populism. Here he’s so busy counterpointing celestial, vaguely Shakesperean intrafamily feuds with earthbound fish-out-of-water folly that both elements wind up undercooked. The net effect feels like directorial insecurity.
Everywhere we look, it’s a mixed bag: Kat Dennings is utterly superfluous as Portman’s comic-relief sidekick, but Idris Elba is terrific as the stoic gatekeeper of the intergalactic wormholes. Thankfully Hemsworth, at least as plausible a Thor as Vincent D’Onofrio was in Adventures in Babysitting, eventually wins us over with his swaggering, just slightly campy Olde English pomposity.
Thor, the character, has been the property of Marvel Entertainment since the 1960s, when he became the cover boy for an odd but muscular combination of Norse mythology and comic books. So it makes sense that Thor is the epitome of commercial filmmaking: It’s less a film than a commercial for its own sequel, for the Avengers movie next year and for the many multiplatform entertainment properties on offer from the Marvel machine. Let’s call it a success, for isn’t it the first rule of the franchise propagator to leave us wanting more?