Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is just as good as it needs to be—and no more. But in the realm of superhero movies, I’m perfectly fine with that. I have no need to have these things handled as Shakespearean drama, though presumably that was the idea behind hiring Branagh. And he’s certainly comfortable enough with all the Wagnerian-trappings inherent in this Norse nonsense, but he doesn’t let it push him into the area of self-important pomposity. (Yes, I am thinking of you, Christopher Nolan.) The prestigious Mr. B. has delivered a movie that makes me believe his claim that he used to read Thor comic books when he was a child—even if he does go heavy on the Dutch angles to prove he’s artsy. In fact, he’s virtually delivered two movies—one that takes place in the mythical world of Asgard, and one that takes place on Earth.
Despite the fervent denials of touchy fanboys, Thor really is an origins story, especially as concerns how he came to Earth and learned how to be a real hero rather than a bumptious blond blowhard with a magical hammer. The backstory has Odin (a just-hammy-enough Anthony Hopkins) defeating the evil Frost Giants and bringing peace to all nine realms (including Earth) of the universe by confiscating the source of the inhospitable giants’ power. All is just dinky-do till some of the giants break in to Asgard and try to steal the damned thing, getting them quickly dispatched by Odin’s giant robot-like guard.
This also riles Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into wanting to go to war with the Frost Giants—mostly because he just wants to flex his large and sinewy muscles and show how bad-ass he is. And he does—in part at the urging of his transparently shifty brother Loki (Brit TV actor Tom Hiddleston)—displeasing daddy Odin and getting himself exiled to Earth minus his super powers. It’s there that he meets scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her boss Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), and comic relief Darcy (Kat Dennings). This is all played with a pleasantly light tone that provides a nice contrast to all the intricate royal family skullduggery (for which royal families are famous) in Asgard. It also sets up Thor’s inevitable meeting with Iron Man‘s Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), since this is all at the service of setting up next year’s superhero house party, The Avengers.
It’s generally fun stuff and occasionally more than that. The Frost Giants are agreeably creepy. The court intrigue is well-handled. Rethinking the Rainbow Bridge in quasi-scientific terms pretty much works. Loki is amusingly duplicitous, though it’s difficult to understand how no one sees that this boy is bad news until it’s too late. Thor’s big showdown with the giant robot that Loki sends to Earth to settle his brother’s hash is truly impressive, since the robot is a genuinely scary presence—even if it is a CGI creation that owes more than a little to Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and the alien invaders in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). In fact, its new-and-improved variation on those is actually kind of pleasing. But perhaps best of all is the fact that Hemsworth manages to make Thor an appealing character. That’s pretty remarkable when you realize this is a ridiculously garbed misplaced Norse god.
Is Thor a great film? No. I also doubt I’ll ever feel any great desire to see it again. Still, I was consistently entertained by it while it was on screen. More than that, I can’t reasonably ask. Rated PG-13 with no reason available.