Hunky Chris Hemsworth plays the title role in Kenneth Branagh’sThor.
We’ve entered a new phase in comic book movies in which the semblance of reality is no longer sustainable. You can make a somewhat believable Superman or X-Men film, but those movies have already been made and studios are now digging into C- and D-class comic books that are usually far more mystical. Enter Thor. The absurd, vaguely psychedelic comic with bubblegum Norse mythology has finally been given the $150 million treatment.
Honestly, I’m amazed it got made. Thor has what I call the “Dune problem,” where a film with an exceptionally complicated mythology or backstory requires a long introductory exposition. And Thor’s mythology is, well, very Aryan—with the whiff of Wagner, so to speak.
But Marvel made a very smart choice: they recruited Kenneth Branagh as director. This may seem like a strange choice, but Branagh is experienced with epic and often light-hearted theater, and he brings the same sensibility to Thor. Tacking exactly opposite from the gun-metal brutality of Nolan’s Batman movies, Thor is a corny, retro romp. It’s pretty dumb, but it’s fun and, really, that is the alpha and omega of criterion for summer tent-pole flicks.
Thor is a classic fish-out-of-water young man’s quest story. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an impossibly ripped beefcake prince in the mystical sky-land of Asgard. He’s supposed to become king, taking over from his wizened and wise father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But Thor does something stupid: he attacks the frost giants (don’t worry about it). As punishment, Odin takes his awesome hammer and casts him out of Asgard to earth. There, he has to figure out a way to get his hammer back.
It’s a pretty simple set-up but Branagh knows his strengths. First, he makes Asgard a glittering fantasia. It’s completely fake looking, but it has an elegant sheen to it. Second, Chris Hemsworth is a charming and likeable mythical god. Third and most importantly, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is light-hearted camp, comfortable in its own skin.
Thor is by no means memorable. But sometimes you want to see movies like this: silly, fun, with a touch of class and imagination. Thor passes the summer movie test—it’s simply a decent way to spend two hours. Sometimes that’s enough. B