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One divine hammer.   Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

God as my witness, I  really thought they were called the Frostchilds.  This, just part of the problem when numerous cast members are called upon to speak in a English accent, whether they happen to hail from England or not.  As it turns out, the enemies of Asgard and their King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) are, in fact, the Frost Giants.   Shame, really.   Instead of sounding like the patricians of a snowy realm, the bad guys find themselves with a label redolent of some forgettable Canadian Football League squad.  There's just not going to be any winning that way.  It's one of many shortcomings of this film version of Thor, feebly helmed by Kenneth Branagh.  What we have here, in addition to a failure to communicate, is some very watered down Norse Mythology.

Burdened as they are by a silly name, the Frost Giants still prove pesky in their way, breaking into the palace just as Odin is about to vacate the thrown for his brawny, rather too sure of himself son, Thor.  One son's acension to the throne, we later find out, occurs to the chagrin of the other son, Loki.  Such considerations are overshadowed by the incursion of the the Frost Giants, after the coveted Casket of Ancient Winters.   Yes, the Casket of Ancient Winters.  The Giants are not successful, but their brazen party crashing incites the new king, who is ready to wield that big hammer of his.  Odin counsels restraint, but testosterone prevails, sending Thor, his friend Sif, brother Loki and the Warriors Three (sort of Thor's mythological backing band) to the frigid environs of Jotunheim to kick some Frost Giant ass.  Hmm...a callow scion taking his countrymen to distant land to make an ill-advised,  preemptive strike - sound at all familiar, good people of America?   The Asgardians, by the way, seem to have hired the architect of New York's Trump Tower to design their palace; which is to say, lots of gold, not so much imagination.           

Don't you just love what they've done with the Kodak Theatre!
As these things tend to go, Thor's attack on the Frost Giants proves a fiasco.  He's rescued at the last moment by Odin, with the weary, aggrieved air of a parent called to the police station in the middle of the night to retrieve a dumbass kid.  But this is no average family, after all.   Odin realizes that Thor is in no way ready to assume the leadership of Asgard.   He strips his son of his title, divests him of his hammer and banishes him from Asgard, sending him skittering down a wormhole to that inter-galactic Ellis Island in the American Southwest, New Mexico.  There poor Thor falls right into the path of  scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her scientifically tricked out recreational vehicle.  Prowling around the New Mexico desert with Jane is her mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her goofy assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings).        

The lives of Thor and Jane intersect quite literally, when Thor falls into the path of the scientist's vehicle.   An awkward romance and some fish out of water comedy (some of which actually works) ensues.  While this is happening in New Mexico, the reptilian Loki (who finds out that he's the adopted son of Laufey, leader of the Frost Giants) connives with the enemies of Asgard to let them run amok in his adoptive home and steal the Casket of Ancient Winters.   Weary Odin, so stressed out by all of these proceedings -  the foolish, banished son on one had, the adopted, embittered son on the other - falls into a protective "Odinsleep," sort of a coma with high production values.       

Loki slips down to New Mexico to tell Odin that their father has actually died and, much as I would like to help you, bro, rules are rules, and there's nothing to be done about ending your exile.  However, when the Warriors Three manage to sneak down to Earth and give Thor the real story, Loki then feels the need to do away with his attention-grabbing brother once and for all.   He sends down a fearsome, seemingly indestructible metallic monster called "The Destroyer." to dispatch Thor at last.  The Destroyer? you might wonder.  With all the loopy, vaguely Norse nomenclature floating around Thor,  The Destroyer was the best they could do?  Why not just call it The Ass Kicker?  The Beater Upper? Big Scary Metal Man?  This lack of imagination, at least, can be laid at the door of the Marvel Comics people, who took up the Thor story in the 1960's.  

Thor's hammer, given the far richer name of Mjolnir, gets hurled to Earth after him.   The mighty hammer and it's attendant crater are swooped upon by S.H.I.E.L.D, one of the least menacing of super secret, dark-suited group of government agents you're likely to see on film.   Thor fights his way into their enclosure only to find that he can't liberate Mjolnir from the stubborn New Mexico ground or from the Sheldians.   The hammer, as it turns out, has a sword-in-the-stone-like worthiness requirement. (the Exacalibur legend also has an analogue in Norse Mythology).   Thor needs to learn both humility and selflessness before good old Mjolnir comes flying back to him.  His seeming suicide mission in taking on The Destroyer proves to be an indication that the beefy fellow might just be ready to lead his people back in Asgard.  Unfortunately, going home means the end of a budding romance between he and a swooning Jane.  The destruction of the Bifrost Bridge during a climactic life and death battle between Thor and Lokie - the same inter-galactic causeway across which the Asgardians inexplicably clatter on horseback - means no return to Earth for Thor, ending forever hopes of seeing Jane again.   Or at least until the sequel; whichever comes first.      

A few unexpected laughs aside, this Thor has numerous sins for which to answer.   Most damningly, there is the rendering almost colorless three interesting actors who head up the Earthly contingent.   Stellan Skarsgard is the only one of the trio we first see in the R.V. who gets out of this mess alive, and he with barely a pulse.  Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist proved just how smart and charming Kat Dennings could be.  We see only the slightest hint of that here.   As for Lady Natalie, well, that return to terra firma from the heights of Oscar glory can be a bumpy one.  This might not be her Snow Dogs, but she has never appeared more forgettable on screen.   It doesn't help that the script gives her such verbal gold as "Oh.  My.  God.," or "That's a good look for you," when appreciating Thor's impressive physique once he has reassumed his Asgardian raiment.   Get thee to an intelligent indie film apace, Natalie!  I haven't seen Hesher and can't say how she fares there.

The pleasant surprise here is Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  The former Aussie soap opera star seems out of his depth in the early scences, a wink and misplaced confidence giving him the air of some smug, latter-day country music star.  But as we later find out, Hemsworth does possess actual charisma and a wee bit of range; he was merely acting unappealing when called upon to do so.  Through those early scenes, he seems to labor with uncurling his Australian accent into something passably, vaguely English.  But as Thor finds himself in the Earthly desert so does Hemsworth settle confidently into the role.  He's got the appeal, the physique and deep register voice around which a franchise could be built.   Compare the easy authority of his utterances to the rasping of Christian Bale as Batman, making the Caped Crusader sound like he's been smoking three packs a day since he was a teenager.   

Mr. Bale's unconvincing throatiness aside, the two Batman films on which he and Christopher Nolan have collaborated, as with the first two Spiderman films, proved that comic book adaptation and intelligent film need not be mutually exclusive entitites.  Kenneth Branagh has spoken of all sorts of lofty goals for this particular adaption, among them reducing the larger than life story to an appreciably human scale.  That happens too little, far to late in Thor.  In the rote, sometimes incomprehensible CGI sequences (especially the early conflict between Thor, his small band and the Frost Giants), there seems no directorial hand, that of Branagh or anyone else.  The fact that Thor has pretty much tripled its $150 million budget in revenue means that he may live to direct another day, the film's success giving his career a bump in the same manner that Iron Man improved Jon Favreau's fortunes.  A sequel, The Avengers, is already in the works.  
Thor merchandise now available.



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