Marvel Films continues building their bridge to nowhere with another mega-budgeted prequel laying laborious groundwork for next summer’s The Avengers. This time we’ve got Chris Hemsworth as the arrogant Norse God of thunder, banished to earth by his father, Odin (a never-hammier Anthony Hopkins) so that he might learn a little bit of humility.
At first glance director Kenneth Branagh would seem an odd choice for a superhero movie, but as the oddball cast prances around the gaudy realm of Asgard in chintzy armor babbling all sorts of palace intrigue nonsense, it’s endearing to watch him attack this junk material like it’s another one of his Shakespeare adaptations. (Let’s just say that the dialogue is significantly less inspired than what Branagh usually works with.)
Hemsworth does have a hearty charisma, provided you can look past the distracting amount of hairdye in his beard. Indeed, the movie’s mildly amusing midsection plays like a Viking take on Crocodile Dundee, as Thor confounds a small New Mexico town by doing stuff like marching into a pet store and demanding a horse. Natalie Portman makes for a hilariously unconvincing astrophysicist, and poor Stellan Skarsgard seems flummoxed that actors like Idris Elba and Rene Russo get to co-star as Norse gods, while he’s stuck playing a science teacher.
The Avengers’ expositional pipe-laying feels slightly less intrusive than it was in Iron Man 2, although in that case it seemed to be interrupting a better movie. Clark Gregg is back again as the officious official from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jeremy Renner turns up for no good reason in a couple of shots that appear to have been awkwardly inserted into an already completed scene. But for the most part Thor is harmless kiddie stuff—high spirits, loud colors, canted angles and Patrick Doyle’s relentlessly bombastic score.
Asgard’s tacky production design owes a debt to Mike Hodges’ kitsch classic Flash Gordon, but the guy sitting next to me said it reminded him of a Vegas bathroom. The problem is there’s no real weight to any of this stuff. Even the hammer looks like a plastic toy.