How does one make a movie that challenges a hero who is a god? By taking away his powers, of course. Toss in numerous Shakespearean themes (not surprising, given Kenneth Branagh as director) and you have Thor, the latest superhero film.
Thor is divided between heaven and Earth -- or, more accurately, Asgard and Earth. In Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is poised to become the new king, at the decision of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and to the possible annoyance of his thoughtful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But a disruption during Thor's ceremony leads Thor -- along with his warrior friends Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander), plus Loki -- to attack the realm of Frost Giants, with whom Odin had previously battled. This enrages Odin who, upset with Thor's pride, arrogance, and ruining a peace between the two races, removes Thor's powers and sends him to Earth (along with his hammer, now enchanted that only one worthy may gain its powers).
On Earth, Thor is found by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist studying the sort of scientific principles that, conveniently, brought Thor to Earth. Their "meet cute" is her hitting him with the car by accident; her comic relief is assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her older, responsible, skeptical, protective partner is Erik (Stellan Skarsgard). No one knows what to make of this man, who seems delusional in his belief that he's a god, the fighting skills to almost back up such a claim, and both good looks and an easy-natured charm.
Also, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the organization S.H.I.E.L.D. are examining the hammer, and what happened when Thor arrived. Back in Asgard, Loki is discovering family secrets and engaging in numerous subtle plots -- and taking power. And Hemidall (Idris Elba), who controls the rainbow bridge (far less silly than it sounds) that allows people to travel to and from Asgard, is suspicious of what's happening in Asgard.
Thor is a pretty impressive movie. While there are plenty of inside jokes/references for Marvel fans (from other Marvel characters to the near-obligatory Stan Lee cameo), Thor is more about personalities than powers. The movie opens and closes with lots of action (from the war with the Frost Giants to the walking armored Destroyer), but the main focus is on, well, learning. Thor is sent here to learn humility, and while never really humble (no Marvel here has ever has such consistent swagger and bravado), does discover that there's more than combat and ego. Meanwhile Loki, up in Asgard, learns about his true history and nature while handling his feelings to his more popular brother and impressive father.
Chris Hemsworth is terrific in the title role, while Tom Hiddleston brings depth, complexity, and even sympathy to the villainous Loki. (Anthony Hopkins is, naturally, wonderful as a regal ruler.) Natalie Portman has less to do here, as the spunky romantic interest/free spirit who winds up helping the possible lunatic due to his charm. There are times I wish there was a bit more action in the middle, but Thor is a pretty entertaining movie -- and a quality summer blockbuster.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch