Monday, May 30, 2011


Although the newest addition to the Marvel Comics’ cinematic super hero pantheon boasts superlative production values and a serviceable cast, “Hamlet” director Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as nothing special. This preposterous, larger-than-life, 115-minute, PG-rated drivel shifts scenes between contemporary New Mexico and the legendary realm of Asgard where Norse royalty reside in Wagnerian grandeur. “Agent Cody Banks” scenarists Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz along with “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” scribe Don Payne gave “Thor” their best shot based on a story by “Ninja Assasin” scenarist J. Michael Straczynski and “Poseidon” writer Mark Protosevich. Despite those best efforts, “Thor” amounts to an undistinguished ‘origins’ epic about Odin’s arrogant offspring. No surprises lurk in this predictable, cookie-cutter opus about the famous hammer wielding Norse champion.

Basically, “Thor” boils down to a boy-gets-hammer, boy-loses-hammer, and boy-gets-hammer back. During this tedious process, our hero has to acquaint himself with the meaning of humility and compassion. Handsome Aussie stud Chris Hemsworth, who played Captain Kirk’s father in “Star Trek” reboot, provides the appropriate brawn and blond hair as the eponymous hero who wrestles with anger management issues. Incidentally, the real Thor of lore possessed red hair and a red beard. Meantime, Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgård co-star in the Earth scenes, while Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins lords it over the Asgard scenes as the one-eyed Odin. Of course, Thor and leading lady Jane become an item, but the film dwells on family woes more than romantic wooing.

“Thor” opens in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico. Astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman of “Black Swan”), her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård of “Good Will Hunting”), and their wisecracking assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings of “Defendor”) are in the middle of nowhere searching for an atmospheric anomaly at night. All hell breaks loose and Jane collides with somebody when they plunge their vehicle into a storm-like phenomenon. Before we learn who they’ve struck, the plot propels us back in time to Norway in 965 A.D. Odin has triumphed over the imperialistic Frost Giants, led by King Laufey (Colm Feore of “Chicago“), and thwarts them from conquering Earth. Odin loses an eye and exiles these icy blue dastards to their frozen world of Jotunheim. Furthermore, Odin confiscates the Casket of Ancient Winters that serves as their source of power. Later, when Odin is about to crown Thor, some Frost Giants infiltrate Asgard to recover the casket. Although Odin dismisses the attempt as a botched effort, Thor wants to wage war on the Frost Giants. Odin and he call each other names. Afterward, Thor slips away with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston of “Midnight in Paris”) and a quartet of his warrior comrades to storm Jotunheim. When Odin learns about Thor’s insubordination, he banishes him to Earth. Thor is sucked into a wormhole and hits planet Earth about the same time that Jane bumps into him with her vehicle.

Meanwhile, the devious Loki learns a disturbing secret about his past from Odin. The truth is that Loki was born a Frost Giant, but Odin adopted him in hopes that someday Loki might bring peace to the warring adversaries. They quarrel about it, and Loki causes Odin to fall into a deadly sleep. None of this deep sleep nonsense is clarified, but the implication seems to be that Odin is hovering near death. Back on Earth, Thor finds out ‘Mjolnir' has crashed to Earth and embedded itself in bedrock. Everybody tries without success to wrench the hammer from the rock, shades of "The Sword in the Stone." This scene qualifies as one of the funniest, featuring Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee in an amusing cameo as he struggles to extract the hammer. Eventually, the Norse god scrambles to the site for his treasured hammer. Thor has no luck with ‘Mjolnir’ and fears the worst. As Odin lies in a coma-like rest, Loki takes over his father’s duties. Now, he dispatches an enormous robot called Destroyer to complicate matters. Destroyer virtually wipes out the entire town where Jane and company live.

As superhero movies go, nobody in “Thor” is in immediate jeopardy, and you know the hero will survive no matter how intimidating Destroyer looks. The combat scenes never generate any excitement. Sure, several characters experience some close scrapes with mortality, but nobody dies. Worse, some characters get away with more than others because Branagh and his quintet of writers don’t make us privy to their special powers. Watch Loki and you’ll see. As villains rate, Loki is more deceitful than menacing, and Thor never performs anything picturesque, like the heroes in “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “The Fantastic Four” franchise. Surprisingly, neither Jane nor her friends are kidnapped by the villains. Ironically, none of those eponymous protagonists share Thor’s supernatural powers.