Movies

Movie Review: Thor

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“Thor” strikes into theaters and starts off the summer blockbuster season.

Kenneth Branagh (“Henry V,” “Hamlet”) may seem to be an odd choice to direct a big-budget superhero movie. Some superhero movies translate well from comics onto the screen, but “Thor,” the story of a golden-manned, hammer-hurling god could be campy or amateurish in the hands of the wrong director. Branagh has proven otherwise.

Thor (Chris Hemmsworth) is one hot-headed Norse god. The apparent heir to the throne of the realm of Asgard, he’s brash and reckless. After a break-in incident by a few creatures of Frost Giants, Asgard’s old nemesis, he defies the order of his father, the wise King Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

Thor pushes his way through the galactic portal, watched over by its long-time guardian (Idris Elba), and ventures out to the frozen land of Jotunheim, along with quartet of his loyal fighters (Ray Stevenson, Tadanabou Asano, Josh Dallas, Jamie Alexander). By provoking and starting a fight, he breaks a truce that could lead to a war.

Furious and disappointed in his son, King Odin strips Thor of his supremacy and banishes him to Earth to learn a lesson about humility. In darkness through the storm of clouds, Thor lands in the desert of New Mexico, where he’s accidentally hit by the vehicle occupied by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist, her quirky assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).

There are developments in both worlds. In New Mexico, the S.H.I.E.L.D. government agents, led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), are tracking down the unusual atmospheric phenomenon and taking over Jane’s research. In Asgard, King Odin falls into a slumber state and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s iniquitous younger brother, proclaims himself as the ruler of the realm. Loki’s dark backstory and motivation is revealingly more complex than a sibling jealousy and deeper than greed. He’s a multi-dimensional character and not your typical villain.

But no one steals Hemmsworth’s thunder here; a star is born.  Any doubt about him is erased; as a newcomer, he will make a fine addition to the all-star cast of “The Avengers” (premiering next summer).

With his Shakespearean language and old-world manner, Thor is a fish out-of-water and hilarity follows. He gradually transforms from anger and confusion to comprehension and resignation as a mere mortal. For the first time in his life, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be or do. Even with his godlike, muscular stature, there’s a childlike innocence and gentleness about him, wandering around and interacting with humans in his exile.

There’s a poignancy when Thor finds his hammer, Mjolnir, stuck in a rock, and realizes he could not pick it up even with all his might. Mjolnir is a war hammer forged out of a dying star and could only be held by a worthy warrior. Now this incredible brute strength looks more like a lost little boy. He softens considerably and understands his reprimand.

When Thor faces off with the Destroyer, a giant robot sent down by Loki, and selflessly offers himself to end the destruction on Earth, it’s a turning point in his character. And when his almighty power is restored in its regal glory, Thor displays it wisely. The “God of Thunder” is now a dignified warrior.

“Thor” is an epic blend of mythology, action, adventure and fantasy. But underneath all the flash, it has a layered story, well-developed characters and human dynamics. Beyond royal rivalry, it’s a story about familial betrayal and tragedy, self-discovery and growth. Yet it’s lighthearted enough as a pure enjoyment. The only flaw here, surprisingly, is Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar win in “Black Swan.” Supposedly an accomplished scientist, somehow her portrayal as a love interest comes off as a giddy school girl.

Last but not least, what a visual marvel! Asgard is celestially fantastic, fits for gods – glittering gold spheres, lustrous palace and crystal bridge shimmering in a spectrum of colors. It shines even more luminously, in stark contrast with the dusty, humble Earth.

“Thor” was my most anticipated superhero movie in 2011 since I attended the Comic-Con panel and previewed the extended trailer last year. As an original adaptation, it has set the bar high for “Green Lantern” and “Captain America.” Like “Spider Man” and “Iron Man” before it, Marvel has another star in its universe, primed for a sequel.  “Thor” deserves a thunderous applause.

Copyright (c) 2011. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com).

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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