THOR is an exuberant blend of spectacle and fun. More in keeping with vintage Saturday morning movie serials than the fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters of more recent date, it is, nonetheless, not lacking in nifty special effects to showcase its stalwart heroes, black-hearted evil-doers, and the fine comic relief in the form of a slacker babe who is out of her element.
Though bearing the Marvel seal of approval, this Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has significant points of departure. Still the god of thunder made mortal and banished for his impetuous arrogance from his heavenly home of Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), in this telling, he has memories of his identity intact. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still his love interest, though in a charmingly chaste unfolding, but shes an astrophysicist studying the strange magnetic phenomena happening in the skies over remote New Mexico. Loki, more Iago than prankster, is still evil in the suavest most cold-blooded of manners as channeled by Tom Hiddleston, a sinister rival craving power more than a chuckle at the expense of the prankee. Oh, and the Frost Giants are still out to topple Asgard.
Unbeknownst to Jane, those strange lights in the sky that have caught her imagination, are manifestations of the Rainbow Bridge that links the Earth to Asgard, and by which Thor is hurled to Earth just in time to be run over by her van. Theirs is a difficult relationship, what with her believing that hes crazy. Still, when SHIELD, the covert organization entangled in all things superhero, shows up in the form of affably ruthless Agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg), to make mischief with Janes research, and then ito take possession of Thors magical hammer, the one Odin flung in the opposite direction after dealing with Thor, the god of thunder becomes more to her than the hunky guy with unfortunate ways of expressing himself. Its cause for alarm for fellow scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who also possesses the convenient repository of the pertinent Norse legends thanks to his Swedish birth, and Darcy (Kat Dennings), Janes acerbic lab assistant with a TASER and an attitude.
The film maintains a clever divide between Asgard and Earth that is more than space and time. The idioms of each reality working surprisingly well in context despite being mutually exclusive. Action in the former has the mythic qualities of the ancient legends, with flowery speech, high drama, and monumental sets that have a distinct Buck Rogers flair, a penchant for structures that look like pipe organs and a complete lack of irony. The latter, however, has a looser feel, with a lower pitch to the emotional stirrings, and the spare colloquial stylings of post-moderns. There is also more humor. While one of Thors fellow warriors, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson in a portly suit of armor), has the best line of the film by declaring that his appetite should not be confused with apathy for the fate of poor banished Thor, its the Earthlings who know how to banter with a wit that may not sparkle but has a certain piquant charm nonetheless. The intersection of both worlds embodied in the juxtaposition of Thor, though human, but still sporting the god-like swagger that got him into so much trouble at home, adjusting to an earthbound life interacting with the locals is nicely summed up when he strides purposefully into a pet store and demands a horse. Instead of the swift compliance Thor has come to expect, the clerk, too bored to be startled by the request or requestor, can barely rouse himself to inform him that they only sell birds and dogs.
Thor is also still gifted with a god-like physique, which is enough to startle Jane out of her emotional torpor, but Portman, while charming, never quite finds the right groove to real chemistry with Hemsworth, which is odd considering over very good looking they both are. Its a minor point in the grander scheme of things that involve creatures that hurl spikes of ice, battles that have a genuine whiz-bang quality to them, and the fact that Hemsworth, every inch the Nordic ideal of blonde and blue-eyed manhood, looks really, really good while flinging that hammer. He also has the right rumbly bass notes in his voice for that hint at thunder in the distance.
THOR is a lesser entry in the super-hero to cinema game, but one that is splendidly diverting on its own limited terms and commendable for refraining from camp. It also boasts the de rigeur cameo by Stan Lee, this time as a truck driver with less horsepower than he thought he had. Also look for Jeremy Renner as an archer with mixed feelings about his target and, of course, the tag after the end credits that sets up the next film from the Marvel universe.