Thor Hammers Hard at Cinemas Worldwide

Face front, True Believers! According to our calenders, officially  the first day of Summer is June 21, but movie Summer really starts with the first weekend in May ( sorry FAST FIVE ) especially with the release of a big comic book superhero movie. For the last few years this has featured a hero from the fabled House of Ideas-Marvel. With 2008′s IRON MAN the comic company has been producing their film properties through Marvel Studios ( along with Paramount ).
After two Iron Man movie adventures the studio is now tackling another Marvel hero. While Tony Stark was thought of as a second tier character,

this big guy has been one of their comic superstars since his introduction in 1962′s Journey Into Mystery number 83-the mighty Thor. The Norse god had primarily been adapted in animation. First in the ( very ) limited animation TV series The Marvel Superheroes by Gantry Lawrence in 1966. He later made appearances on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and most recently on the Superhero Squad and Marvel Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The only live action attempt was in the 1988 made-for TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. In that a former student of David Banner, Donald Blake, was able to channel and materialize an ancient warrior through a battle hammer. This Thor was a viking party animal interested in carousing with very little in common with the comic book character. Growing up, reading of his exploits I didn’t think this updated Norse mythology could be translated to a big live action big screen epic. Like Jon Favreau with Iron Man, an actor has stepped behind the camera to guide him to the muti-plexes : Kenneth Branagh. Would he be able to go from Shakespeare to Stan”the man’ Lee and Jack ‘king’ Kirby. After viewing the end result, THOR, I can only say, “Excelsior!”

This Norse mythology saga starts, oddly enough, in the deserts of New Mexico, USA. A van containing researchers Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ), Darcy Lewis ( Kat Dennings ), and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard ) races through the night in order to take readings of the strange atmospheric disturbances. Suddenly the dark skies open and a weird light shines on the desert floor. Driving to the spot, they bump against something-a man. The film then goes back many hundreds of years to a primitive Norwegian village suddenly under attack by the fearsome Frost Giants. Soon a bursting bright light sets forth hundreds of viking warriors to the rescue. They are Asgardians lead by their king, Odin ( Anthony Hopkins ). After a brutal battle ( Odin loses his right eye ), Asgard prevails and Odin takes the Frost Giants’ power source the Casket of Ancient Winters. The years pass. Odin and his beautiful wife Frigga ( Rene Russo ) raise two sons: Thor and Loki. Reaching adulthood, Thor ( Chris Hemsworth ) is chosen by Odin to secede him as king/ ruler of Asgard. The ceremony is interrupted by Frost Giants who attempt to retrieve the casket, until they are thwarted by an enchanted walking armored weapon, the Destroyer. Going against his father’s wishes, Thor along with his brother Loki ( Tom Hiddleston ) and friends the Lady Sif ( Jamie Alexander ) and the Warriors Three: Hogun  ( Tadanobu Asano ), Fandral ( Joshua Dallas ), and Volstagg ( Ray Stevenson ) get the Rainbow Bridge’s guardian Heimdall ( Idris Elba ) to open the portal/ wormhole to the Front Giants’ world of Jotunheim. The fight is stopped when Odin and his guards arrive to take the Asgardians back home. After a heated argument Odin strips Thor of his powers and send him to Earth. Casting a spell on his hammer, Odin sends it to Earth as well. And so we’re caught up as Thor is taken to a hospital by the research team. After he’s released the scientists take him in, although Selvig believes him to be delusional. Meanwhile the hammer’s arrival has attracted many locals who attempt to free it from a rock that where it is embedded. But it can only be retrieved and used by someone worthy of the power of Thor. The hammer has also attracted Agent Phil Coulson ( Clark Gregg reprising his role from the Iron Man films ) and the forces of S.H.IE.L.D., who set up operations around it. Back in Asgard, Odin collapses after an altercation with Loki. The aged ruler is taken to the healing room where he enters the Odin-sleep ( an almost comatose state). Loki assumes the throne. Can he make Thor’s banishment permanent? Will Thor be able to retrieve his hammer and regain his powers? And what will happen to his friends back in Asgard? And what of his new friends on Earth- especially the lovely Ms. Foster?

This all makes for a whole lot of fun at the movies. It turns out that Branagh’s an excellent match for this material. The royal family intrigue is very similar to much of Shakespeare’s work. He also handles the many action scenes with skill as we see this magical hammer in action. Bo Welch does an admirable job of emulating Jack Kirby’s spiralling, shining castles and towers in Asgard. While Krypton has been portrayed in the recent Superman films as jutting, icy stalagmite towers, Thor’s home has a warm golden glow. Relative newcomer Hemsworth does a great job of anchoring the film. He makes Thor’s journey from arrogant brawler to humble, compassionate hero very compelling. If Lawrence Oliver could be the Greek god Zeus in the original CLASH OF THE TITANS, then who better to play his Norse counterpart Odin than Hopkins ( now that Sean Connery’s retired ). And a big welcome back to Ms. Russo in her first movie in over five years.You’ve been missed . I look forward to seeing  you fighting side by side with Hopkins in future adventures. Hiddleston’s a great conniving plotter as the duplicitous Loki. Kudos to the rest of Thor’s Asgardian friends particularly Alexander and Dallas who look like they stepped right out of the comics along with Stevenson ( PUNISHER: WAR ZONE ) as ( the not so-voluminous ) Vostagg and Elba as the imposing Heimdall. On Earth, Denning provides great comic relief as Darcy while Skarsgard brings scholarly gravitas and humor to Dr. Selvig. Portman’s believable as the compassionate scientist, but stumbles a bit while almost swooning over the hunky heroin several scenes. As in previous films, Gregg is a treat as the all-business ( but very funny ) government agent. As mentioned on this sight, another Marvel character makes an appearance here.  And of course like the Iron Man films, be sure to stick around through the end credits for a bonus scene that sets the wheels in place for a future film. I’ve only a couple problems with the film. The switch between Earth and Asgard can be abrupt. The scenes of Loki’s treachery sometimes stop the momentum of Thor’s New Mexico saga. Also the ending does evoke the conclusions of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and the first Spider-Man film. And of course there’s the old 3D situation. Thor was not shot in 3D ( there’s not even a shot of the hammer zooming toward the camera ), so the scene set on the Frost Giant world is very dark and murky. I hope to catch it again in good ole 2D. So, how does this stack up against the other Marvel movies? Well, with SPIDER-MAN 2 being the sublime and ELEKTRA on the other end of the spectrum , I’d place this in the top third, right between the first Iron Man and the Ed Norton Incredible Hulk. Just think only a few weeks till we re-visit those X-Men and a few weeks after that we’ll cheer on that  shield slingin’ first Avenger. This bodes well for a great movie Summer. For Asgard!
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