COLUMN: ‘Thor’ is an awesome start for an action-filled summer

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By ERIC HARRIS, Film Review

The flood of comic-book movies has begun with “Thor,” a surprisingly entertaining film from director Kenneth Branaugh.

Branaugh, known for his work with Shakespearean material, may seem like an odd choice for a “summer” action movie. But it turns out that a serious director can really elevate the lighter fare of the comic-book world.

“Thor” is definitely lighter; it has to be. In the world of outlandish characters Thor stands alone as the only superhero who is also a bona fide god. Thor, son of Odin, lives in Asgard, one of nine “realms” in the universe and home of the Norse gods. Not to spoil anything, but Thor causes Odin one problem too many in Asgard and is banished to Earth. Of course, the problems in Asgard lead to problems on Earth, so this film operates almost evenly between two very different worlds. On one hand you have Asgard, shiny and futuristic yet still stuck in Viking lore as the characters still wield swords and ride horses (it’s an amusing contradiction). Then there is Earth, where scientists, played by Stellan Skarsgaard and Natalie Portman, are just scratching the surface of traveling between realms.

As much as Asgard is a contradiction of itself, Thor is still a stranger fit for Earth and that leads to the majority of the comedy of the film. Fish-out-of-water jokes are always slightly amusing, but this gimmick is funnier than usual because Thor is such a loud, arrogant character … even for a god. He shows disdain for every human he comes across and shows complete disgust when they attempt to give him medical attention. But it’s all relatively harmless behavior and he becomes easier for everyone to deal with soon enough.

Also, if you’ve been watching “Conan” lately, you’ll have to stop yourself from imagining the parody of “Thor” that’s been on the show the past week. That’s not part of the filmmakers’ plan or anything, but it still provides a few laughs for those in the know.

“Thor” mainly works because of its characters and the actors portraying them. Chris Hemsworth is impressive as Thor and should be a bigger name in the coming years. Anthony Hopkins gets to ham it up and growl his lines at people in an amusing way as Odin. Tom Hiddleston does a fine, angst-filled job in a Commodus-type role as Loki. Idris Elba looks freakish and has one of the film’s awesome moments as Heimdall.

And Rene Russo shows up which is notable only because she hasn’t been in a movie for years. You may have noticed I haven’t written a word about any of the actors portraying human characters. They all do a fine job; it’s just that their characters pale in comparison to the gods, which is the way it should be.

Decent acting and a bit of comedy are fine, but “Thor” is still part action movie. The action is handled quite well and at times it can even be borderline jaw-dropping. Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is a pretty amazing cinematic weapon. He has to do without it for most of the film, but when Thor has the hammer, you know you’re going to see some great action. The 3-D isn’t bad, either. If the film had taken place completely on Earth, the 3-D might have seemed pointless. But during action scenes in other worlds, it added quite a bit. Also, the extra dimension adds a taste of realism to the CG-heavy realms.

The story of “Thor” is a bit busy, but the themes of becoming an adult and the bond between father and son still resonate. There’s nothing overly special about the script, but it is certainly a step above many comic book movies.

The script attempts to create an emotional attachment to the characters rather than just give reasons for stuff to blow up. Stuff still blows up – The Destroyer causes plenty of glorious mayhem – but it’s all tied together nicely.

Finally, Director Branaugh keeps it all intact and with a sense of style. The action scenes are easy to follow and the camera seems to always be moving, but not in a busy, over-the-top way.

His choice to frame most scenes in a skewed angle is odd, but that element did give the film its own look and that’s always important when dealing with the Marvel universe since it’s all of the Marvel films are connected in some way.
“Thor” may not end up being the biggest comic-book movie this year, but it will most likely go down as one of the best. If this film is any indication, we’re in for a very entertaining summer.

Eric Harris of Cannelton is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.