Marvel's latest superhero epic Thor takes more than a few pages out of the 600-plus issues of the comic originated by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This update on Norse mythology centers on the fall and redemption of a warrior whose thoughtless actions get him banished from Asgard by his father, the god Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
As Thor, the arrogant warrior-prince, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) is a find, springing from the film a complete and fully formed star. Somehow he manages to have chemistry with everyone he shares the screen with, from Natalie Portman to Stellan Skarsgard (Pirates of the Caribbean), and the fact that he's virtually unknown in the United States is an added benefit, as it feels like this tall, handsome stranger might actually have fallen from the sky.
As Thor's cunning brother, the treacherous Loki, Tom Hiddleston (Wallander) turns in an effective portrayal of a damaged individual lashing out at the people he loves. Hopkins shines as the old king who must choose between his sons, and Portman is immensely likeable as the naive astrophysicist who falls in love with a golden-haired stranger from a strange land.
Director Kenneth Branagh is known primarily for his Shakespeare adaptations and smaller, character-driven affairs. Between Norse mythology and the 50-year history of the Marvel comic, there are plenty of larger-than-life Shakespearean elements to exploit in Thor. Branagh is in his element when focusing on the title character's fish-out-of-water predicament, and is adept at finding humor in the script. And humor goes a long way toward humanizing a god.
Okay, so perhaps it's not entirely believable when we find the newly humbled Thor serving up breakfast to his Earthling friends in the second act, but it does feel earned in a sense because of the moments of character development that Branagh has already strategically placed on the Nordic prince's road to redemption.
The visual effects are not as impressive. Too many of the Asgard shots look like something out of a Final Fantasy game, circa 2005. The teleportation sequence on the Rainbow Bridge is repeated so often it bogs down the movie's pace and gives the audience ample time to become aware of its cartoonish quality. Sadly, the most effective visual-effects shots on Asgard are those that de-age Hopkins 25 years for a flashback sequence. The scenes aren't helped by Alexandra Byrne's theatrical costume design, either: Some of the background players in Odin's throne room look like they escaped from the set of Flash Gordon.
There are a few special treats for the comic book fans in the audience. Nods to other characters in the Marvel Universe abound and, of course, there's the obligatory cameo from comics maestro Stan Lee.
Overall, the latest Marvel superhero movie is a lot like its title character: boisterous and fun.
Thor opens in theaters today.