| The first official weekend of the 2011 summer movie season kicks off with one of the most powerful and under-rated superheroes in the Marvel Comics’ universe. Stan Lee created the title character in 1962, but his true origins date back to the Vikings and Norse mythology. Acclaimed actor-director Kenneth Branagh (“Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing”), a fan of this character since childhood, brings this big-budget blockbuster to the screen aided by a team of five screenwriters.
There is a lot of exposition in this origin story to shoehorn the neophyte into the fray. Once you get your bearings with all the characters and their complex relationships, everything that follows is easily accessible.
Thor (Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth) is the first-born son of the god Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the natural heir to the throne of Asgard. His younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is jealous of the favoritism Odin has shown Thor. This Cain and Abel struggle lies at the heart of the movie.
The movie goes back to A.D. 965 Norway, when a war was fought between the Asgardians and their enemies, the Frost earth with a new Ice Age. A hard-fought victory was won by Odin that brought peace to the universe.
A break-in at the weapons vault threatens the centuries-old truce. Defying his father’s wishes and pushed by his brother’s urgings, Thor leads a retaliatory attack in the land of the Frost Giants. He is joined by Loki, the beautiful and tough Sif (Jamie Alexander) and the Warriors Three comprised of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano). In order to get to another realm, they must get by the gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba), who guards the Bifrost Bridge.
Thor wears a winged helmet, body armor and a red cape and wields the mighty hammer Mjolnir forged from a dying star that returns like a boomerang after being thrown.
After a prolonged skirmish, Odin comes to the rescue and stops the fighting. All the valiant warriors return to Asgard. Odin chastises Thor for his arrogant behavior. He strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth to live as a mortal. He also tosses out the enchanted hammer, which ends up embedded in the middle of a crater on Earth.
The story shifts to the New Mexico desert. Astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman from “Black Swan” and “V for Vendetta”) along with her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) are investigating atmospheric disturbances as part of their scientific research. They see a portal in the sky that is referred to as a wormhole. Jane runs over Thor in the vehicle she is driving. She speculates on where he came from.
The movie alternates between scenes on Asgard and Earth. The conniving trickster Loki takes steps to seize his father’s throne. Thor wants to return home and regain his powers. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of the government espionage and law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a key role in guarding the immovable hammer. Eventually Sif and the Warriors Three come down to Earth looking for their compatriot. They do battle against the giant robot Destroyer who is sent by Loki to kill Thor.
This epic storytelling spectacle begins with a battle scene reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings.” While Thor gains patience and learns humility on Earth, baby boomers will recall Jeff Bridges in “Starman.” The beginning flames of a romance are kindled between Thor and Jane.
Relative unknowns Hemsworth and Hiddleston make indelible impressions as the superhero and chief antagonist. They hit all the right notes in embodying their characters. Their tickets to Hollywood stardom are punched with this monumental undertaking. Hemsworth wins you over with his charismatic personality, gentlemanly manners and muscular physique. Hopkins adds a touch of class with his authoritative dignity. Portman is believable as a highly motivated and competent scientist. She also shows a vulnerable side revealing an emotional schoolgirl’s crush on Thor.
The movie’s other strengths include the production, costume and sound design. The action scenes are well-staged and the computer graphics special effects are stupendous. The musical score by composer Patrick Doyle is powerful and matches the strength of the title character.
This movie has all the sci-fi fantasy, wonder and magic we have come to expect from Marvel Studios. This is their third production following the two “Iron Man” movies. The 114-minute running time passes by swiftly and leaves you wanting more. A tremendous fan base with a rooting interest for this new screen super hero will eagerly await a follow-up sequel. A bonus scene after the end credits provides a tie-in to the highly anticipated 2012 movie “The Avengers.”
This fun-filled action adventure is suitable viewing for children ages 8 and up. The battle scenes are tastefully done without any blood shown on the screen. The only scary creatures that may cause nightmares are the Frost Giants and the robot Destroyer. The IMAX 3D version is available in Johnson County at AMC Town Center 20 and AMC Studio 30.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"