As a Norwegian American, I've always had a soft spot for the Marvel superhero Thor, even though frankly he always struck me as silly, with his long blonde hair, his winged helmet, and his hammer. With the comic publisher-turned-movie studio frantically churning out feature film adaptations of every character it can before Stan Lee kicks the bucket, Thor seemed a particularly goofy live action subject. Seriously, how do you make a big square hammer look cool?
It was clever of Marvel to hire famed pop culture Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh to helm Thor, even if Branagh has no background in directing effects-laden movies. (It is a lesson that today's blockbusters are made by two teams of filmmakers: those who work with the actors and those who work with the computers.) By balancing Thor's grandiosity with his humanity, taking the drama seriously even while poking fun at his "you silly mortals" attitude, Branagh keeps his movie grounded.
In the comics, Thor was an actual Norse god, hailing from the gods' realm of Asgard. As the Marvel films all try to be set in the real world, with science fiction replacing pure fantasy, the slew of writers on Thor have avoided the god stuff by making Asgard a sort of planet and Thor some kind of warrior alien. Otherwise, his origin story mostly follows that of the comics: exiled from Asgard by his father Odin (played with gusto by Anthony Hopkins), Thor (relative unknown Chris Hemsworth, perfectly cast and smartly manning Thor up by sporting a beard) and his hammer are sent to Earth separately, where the arrogant but confused Asgardian is befriended by sweet scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, in her sixth feature film to be released in the US within half a year) as he seeks out his hammer. Thor's "god out of water" scenes have a surprisingly gentle charm, and it's here where the film is at its most entertaining. Extended scenes back at Asgard – many of which, naturally, play out like ersatz Shakespeare – are less engaging. Battle sequences even less so.
So yes, Thor is ultimately forgettable, but it's good summer fun, a fine popcorn movie that adolescents should love. (That's a compliment.) But can I just say how little I enjoy this current 3D fad? Not only does it make going to the movies needlessly expensive and turns the screen annoyingly dark, but for folks like me who already wear spectacles, the 3D glasses make the two hours in a theater so uncomfortable. I wish I'd had the choice to catch Thor in regular 2D. The novelty of three dimensions has already worn off – again – and this film, for one, doesn't need it at all.