Review in a Hurry: Straddling a very fine line between fantasy and absurdity, Kenneth Branagh's take on one of Marvel Comics' most ridiculous major players does everything it needs to. Expanding the cinematic Marvel-verse in stranger ways than the casual viewer might expect, it sets the stage for a larger storyline while still delivering a heroic tale for old-school comic readers.
The Bigger Picture: Remember the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie, in which, due to budgetary concerns, He-Man and Skeletor battled it out on the streets of a small American town? Multiply the scale of that film by umpteen, add post-production 3-D, substitute Norse gods Thor (Chris Hemsworth, sporting an action-figure physique) and his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and you've more or less got Thor.
Yes, that's a compliment.
Not that these are exactly the Norse gods—this Thor and Loki, and their people, are cape-wearing aliens from planet Asgard, who were worshipped by the ancients as deities when they arrived long ago to defend medieval Scandinavia against big, blue Frost Giants.
They're also sort-of immortal, which is to say that they refer to other species as "mortals," yet can be killed in battle, grow old, and have children on a world that doesn't seem overpopulated in the least.
Thankfully, none of this stuff is really explained all that much. Superhero origin tales have become so tiresome that it's nice to have at least one that hands you a caped muscleman and his magic flying hammer upfront, and insists you just accept it.
Yeah, it's kinda goofy, which is why, after some god-on-giant violence, Thor gets stripped of his tacky threads and slammed down to planet Earth, where pretty much everyone comments on how ludicrous he sounds and acts. Then he tends to punch them. If you're good at that, you get to wear and say whatever you want, especially in comics.
Taking him more seriously is Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and her conveniently Swedish colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), as this manly man who fell to earth proves their theories about wormholes. We're also supposed to believe that Jane and Thor fall in love, but really, it looks more like two people wanting to make out because they're both hot. Not that we can really blame them for that. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki is staging a coup.
Branagh-as-filmmaker is known for adapting Shakespeare, but there are at least as many parallels here to his Frankenstein, from a fascination with lightning to the arrogance of playing god. Hemsworth has dutifully acquired the body of said god, but we're fortunate that he has a sense of humor, too. It must have been contagious—Branagh the director has never been less self-serious, and we like that.
Best in the acting department, though, are Idris Elba as cosmic guardian Heimdall, and Colm Feore as king of the Frost Giants. Both play their characters so unabashedly alien that they're barely recognizable as human beings.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Although the 3-D is the best post-conversion effort to date, it's still a pointless price-raiser, as very little in the movie takes advantage of it.