There are two movies at play in Thor, and it is surprising how well screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne keep a handle on both of these elements. On the one hand, this is yet another origin story about an unassuming hero - though, to be fair, the hero in question is heir to the throne of a lavish kingdom and a mighty warrior with rippling abs and a strong jawline - becoming a superhero version of himself - which, to be fair, is really just himself in some combat garb while wielding an indestructible hammer. On the other hand, director Kenneth Branagh gives us two backdrops to this origin story.
Even as these two backdrops never convincingly mesh, each is quite effective on their own. Branagh is clearly more comfortable within the lavish kingdom in question, which is none other than Asgard, home to the kind of extraterrestrial beings that, within this world, likely influenced the Vikings of old. Our eponymous hero, played by Chris Hemsworth with no limit to his rugged charm, is one of two, alongside his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), in line to inherit the throne from their aging father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). There is a Shakespearean quality to this side of the story that makes Branagh, that loyal adaptor of the Bard's works, the obvious candidate to take on this material.
The signs are everywhere to that effect, predominantly in the dynamic of the relationship between Thor and Loki, which complicates heavily due to an extended period of peace with the Frost Giants, led by their king Laufey (Colm Feore, eerie under layers of makeup), ending abruptly when Thor, alongside his brother and his comrades-in-arms (played by Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, and Joshua Dallas), seeks war with them. Despite the too-murky backdrop of an action sequence in the Frost Giants' realm, known as Jotunheim, the scene is effective at establishing Thor's arrogance and dropping a revelation in Loki's lap about his heritage. Needless to say, Thor is banished from Asgard, his hammer removed of its power except by those who have the fortitude to wield it.
This brings us to the other main part of the movie, as Thor's banishment drops him into the company of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist studying Einstein-Rosen bridges with the help of her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and an assistant named Darcy (Kat Dennings). Jane's research and subsequent vicinity to Thor's hammer has brought her into the crosshairs of S.H.I.E.L.D., a secretive agency represented by Coulson (Clark Gregg), who confiscates all her notes and equipment. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki makes surreptitious moves toward the throne.
The material that takes place on Earth is that of a fish-out-of-water comedy, and it's a pretty funny one, with Thor's arrogance sticking out like a sore thumb among his humble surroundings (announcing that he needs a horse to ride when entering a pet store, exclaiming that he would like more coffee by smashing a mug on a diner floor, etc.). The two sides eventually come together in a climax that sees Thor face down a giant metal monster thing, but then again, it is followed closely by a different kind of showdown that confronts the dynamic between two brothers. Thor's strengths are very much weighted toward that latter quality, and the movie works because of its earnestness to put its characters first.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Selvig), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (Laufey), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Josh Dallas (Fandral), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Rene Russo (Frigga).
Directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne.
Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi action/violence).
Released on May 6, 2011.