How To Handle the Gods
I had my doubts about Thor, mainly because this particular superhero always seemed kind of silly to me. I thought his creators probably ran out of ideas for human beings with super powers and decided to have the next one be a god -- and what could be more super than that? Not only did it feel a bit like cheating, but the god was to be based on old Norse mythology and his existence had to co-mingle seamlessly in a modern-day universe. This probably worked well enough on the printed page of Marvel Comics, which also featured omnipotent aliens to go along with its alienated super power-endowed teenagers. But could you imagine a movie that would seriously try to depict the Norse God of Thunder appearing in today's world? One's first reflex would be to view this film as a comedy.
But credit must be given to Kenneth Branagh, a man of Shakespearean pedigree, for not only deciding to direct this most unwieldy of Marvel properties, but also for approaching it with exactly the right attitude. Thor comes across as a well-balanced mixture of summer movie pop aesthetics -- not too serious, not too light, with a flare for visual pizazz and big personality. Branagh strikes gold in having relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth cast as the God of Thunder, who not only has the good looks and body to play the part, but also outsizes his performance to go along with them. This is the story about the humbling of a powerful but arrogant being, and Hemsworth not only trumpets the arrogance well but more importantly is able to show that this is a guy who's capable of finding humility. The performance is in just the right spirit for the movie.
Meanwhile, Branagh presents Thor as an action-packed self-contained mythical fable, and not your typical comic book origin story featuring a person dealing with newfound powers and responsibilities. He also understands that he's dealing with beings humans might call deities, and gives us their world -- the realm of Asgard -- as a vision of pomp and splendor. The special effects are used to emphasize the power and brilliance that comes with this world, so when Thor takes action, it carries the weight and aftermath of something otherworldly. Branagh doesn't overdo it either, as he counterbalances this depiction with a lot of humor, especially when Thor ends up on earth. One particularly nice touch involves a character who shows others that these people Thor mentions and associates with were something out of a children's book. It's a good way of reminding us that this is all meant to be in fun.
I still say Thor is a goofy idea for a superhero, but his movie has been handled well, and probably couldn't have been done any better. Now, as almost all comic book geeks know, Thor will return for the upcoming "Avengers" movie, about a bunch of these superheroes teaming up, and I can't help wondering how anyone is supposed to be challenging for the almighty Thor. Well, I did get a hint that the villains from that film might mainly be led by the villain from this film. I suppose if you have a superhero team that includes a god, the only menace that might give you a fight would also have to have connections to the gods. It sounds like this sequel could get out of control, but if it's lent the attitude Branagh has given to Thor, then we might be in good shape.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.