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There’s never a dull moment in Thor, the first of Marvel’s movies to be based on a superhero character almost no one outside of their comic reading faithful cares about. The average man on the street had at least heard of Iron Man, but Thor is better known as a character out of Norse mythology than a superhero. That’s about to change. This movie’s so good that it’ll find the massive audience it deserves.
The story flips almost seamlessly between the fantastical, beautifully realized outer space world of Asgard and a rather more normal, small town in New Mexico, Planet Earth. On Asgard lives a race of people the ancient Norse mistook for gods but the truth is that, as defined long ago in sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. So it looks a lot like magic when blonde, bearded Thor (Chris Hemsworth) leaps across the cosmos smiting enemies with super-powered blows from his hammer, and it also looks like a lot of fun. Thor loves to fight a little too much, so much so that he pushes his people to the brink of war, prompting his father Odin (played with brilliant gravity by an eye-patched, armored, Anthony Hopkins) to strip him of his power and banish him to Earth.
Thor awakens in the New Mexico desert, where he’s discovered by a team of scientists examining the phenomenon created by his galactic teleportation. The group is led by Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman as a girl whose scientific curiosity and inescapable attraction to tall blonde men with large muscles, are perfectly in sync where Thor is concerned. While Thor mucks about on Earth, foiling government organizations out to put the lid on whatever it is that’s going down in the desert, intrigue builds in Asgard, paving the way for the kind of battle royale you can only ever get in a proper summer blockbuster.
Director Kenneth Branagh is best known for his extensive work making movies out of Shakespeare, and you’d expect that experience would serve him well in telling the story of god like royalty facing palace intrigue. That plays a role, but Branagh never lets his movie turn into a bunch of soliloquies. He’s having too much fun. Thor never stops moving, leaping with a kind of electric glee from one moment to the next, carrying the audience along with it using a brilliant kind of effortless charm seen only in measured doses in Iron Man, but on display in every single frame of Thor. This movie suffers none of the inconsistencies of Marvel’s former best film, unlike Iron Man (good though it is) there are no lulls, no places where you’ll wish they’d get all this part of the plot over with so we can back to Tony Stark and his airborne stripper pole. Thor’s greatest strength is its consistency, and no matter where it is in the story, every second of the film is as utterly engaging as the next.
If there’s a problem anywhere in this film it’s that, occasionally, it glosses over some of the more exciting details. Here’s my biggest annoyance. Thor can fly. The movie sort of takes it for granted. When he finally takes off, missing are any of those close-in, excitement shots of the wind whipping at his hair. Usually Thor’s only seen flying off in the distance, whirling around like a dervish sending enemies whipping through the clouds, or he’s flying so fast you never really see more than a flash of red from his cape as he whips by. At times that also works to its advantage though, helping to keep the film from getting bogged down in all the complicated comic mythology around this character, making it easy for us to accept things like the Rainbow Bridge simply as fact whether or not the specifics of it make a lot of sense. So though Thor takes flying, and some of Thor’s other more impressive skills, for granted. I doubt you’ll care. The film so rarely skimps on special effects, and so often packs every frame with eye-popping achievement that it’s easy to forgive its inability to really mine big moments for the little details.
Thor is Marvel Studios’ best movie so far. Chris Hemsworth is utterly convincing as Thor, a born fighter with a heart of gold and the film’s anchored by firm performances from talented actors like Portman, Hopkins, Skellan Skarsgaard as a father figure for Jane, and Idris Elba as Asgard’s fiery-eyed guardian in supporting roles. This is exactly the sort of movie you’d want to kick off the summer. Here it is. Go see it. I’d recommend the 2D version. 3D doesn’t add anything to what’s going on and the truth is that Thor is so good it never a crutch.
For an in-depth review of the Thor’s 3D, read my technical analysis in To 3D Or Not To 3D.