In 2004, Sam Rami’s Spiderman 2 turned a corner for comic book movies. Once the silly territory of Joel Schumacher, movies about super heroes could now be taken seriously. Christopher Nolan would run with this ball, giving the world The Dark Knight and Zach Snyder would raise the subject to an unheard of level of straight-faced seriousness with Watchmen. Kenneth Branagh, strangely enough, seems to be the one who want to take super heroes back to a simpler place, a place with really silly costumes.

The titular Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruler of the incredible world of Asgard. After disobeying his father’s orders and attempting to exterminate the Frost Giants, Asgard’s greatest foes, Thor is stripped of his powers and is banished to earth. However, while Thor is on earth, his evil brother Loki attempts to seize Asgard out from under Odin. Only Thor, of course, can stop him and return order.

Branagh, known best for acting in and directing elaborate, some say definitive, Shakespeare adaptations, seemed like a lofty but sensible choice when his involvement with the project was announced. Thor’s is a delicate situation: A comic book adaptation about a god living among modern men, in this age of “serious” comic book adaptations, would be a hard sell for general audiences and would need a weighty name at the helm. So who better than the Shakespeare guy? What’s really interesting is that his presence is nearly undetectable for most of the film. Early sequences set in the mythic land of Asguard have a lot of the pomp and circumstance one might expect from a Branagh production but his signature is missing from the rest of the movie. Aside from bizarrely pervasive use of canted angles, almost everything else in the film feels as though it could have been the work of Bret Rattner. Thor feels almost orphaned, a film without an author and no one to steer it. Strangely, that sort of becomes the identity of the film. It feels like damaged goods stuff. A movie about 4/5 polished and done before having been weirdly abandoned.

Thor might never have been the hottest unmade property in Hollywood but in the years leading up to its production, it’s had an enormous list of names attached to play the lead, ranging from Brad Pitt to WWE’s Triple H. Though it would have been interesting to see Triple H wield the iconic hammer, the choice to cast Chris Hemsworth, a relative unknown, as the lead is unquestionably the greatest strength of the film. Hemsworth, who’s highest profile role had previously been that of Captain Kirk’s father in 2009’s Star Trek gives the picture a much-needed shot of character. His Thor is one of the more purely enjoyable screen characters of the past few years. Unfortunately, the script plays it safe and isn’t written for an actor with the charisma of Hemsworth but the moments in which he really shines are a lot of fun. Much of it is standard “fish out of water” shtick but Hemsworth makes it works far better than it ought to. Chewing scenery in an effortless sort of way, his Thor feels weirdly natural. He’s foolish and loud and charming but is convincingly noble when he needs to be. He makes the movie work.

Jumping between earth and a number of otherworldly realms, Thor ought to be an epic but somehow it feels small. No doubt much of this is because of Marvel’s insistence that Thor be part of their lofty and hugely expensive Avengers project. Were Thor allowed to be Thor, treated like a story all its own, then it might have been the grand story it asks to be. Instead, Thor is treated like a building block. A story Marvel feels obligated to tell but not one it wants to. Thor isn’t exactly a mess and it’s certainly a handsome film but the haste with which it was produced makes it feel slight.  Had Thor been treated as a real movie instead of steppingstone, it might have been more than average entertainment. Someday, Thor will likely find a nice cult following while on video and running on cable. It’s minor fun. Just don’t go in expecting Ironman.





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