Kenneth Branagh, who directs, has been Hollywood's resident Shakespeare afficionado since Larry Olivier got too old to adorn tights and puffy collars or stand waving skulls, spouting the Bard's sing-songy iambic pentameter. With that in mind, it's not difficult to see what attracted Branagh to the story of Thor. It's got many of the playwright's integral tropes: power struggles among the aristocratic elite, sinister familial betrayals and a prodigal son's banishment, and eventual return. Of course Norse mythology predates England's Renaissance theater scene by some distance, Thor included. As the Herculean-type son of Odin and prince of Asgard, Thor is a hammer-wielding, meathead whose name (if you believe it or not) helped derive the term Thursday (Thor's Day). Jump to the Sixties, the golden age of Marvel comics, and that's when Stan Lee, the Shakespeare of mutant vigilantes, first penned the comic book version of this Norse, hammer-happy deity.
Branagh's film is (surprise, surprise) based mostly on Lee's comic book. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, a Kiwi, who looks as if he'd be throwing chairs at Stone Cold Steve Austin if it weren't for his rugged, outback-y handsomeness and smoldering, slitty-blue gaze. Thor is a cocksure punk prince first in line to be king, but his bloated ego and childish bravado land him on his father's (Anthony Hopkins) shit-list. Odin wants peace with a red-eyed tribe of Ice Giants and Thor wants war without any comprehension of war's dire consequences. To teach his son a lesson, Odin banishes him to that oh-so-horrible realm called Earth, and more specifically somewhere in sandy New Mexico probably a mile away from Area 51.
The simple joys of Thor, for me, came not from its CGI heavy panoramas of the ornate Asgard or the frenzied melees between cannon-fodder ice giants and Thor's entourage of Norse warriors, but from the absurdist hilarity of watching the Michelangelo sculpted, golden do'd, celestial gladiator order more food at a truck-stop diner by slamming his mug on the linoleum floor. "That was delicious! More, I say!" He cries with splendid brutishness. His human hosts: storm-chasing, physicist Jane (Natalie Portman), her mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgaard) and grad-student Darcy (Kat Dennings) look in awe at a man never frightened by his fish-out-of-water situation, but innately heedless about it. Like how Enchanted's Giselle never loses her fairy tale princess qualities despite being stuck in New York's urban cesspool, Thor, in heaven or on earth, is still Thor in all his self-promoting glory. These two characters never compromised their identities in their new surroundings but simply adapted to them -- and for the better.
And while Thor's on his journey of self-improvement, his once-meek and jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back in Asgard claiming the throne and wreaking havoc. What ensues is a race against time, a la Little Nicky, to save a deteriorating paternal monarch and the kingdom that goes with him. And, of course, for Thor to get home in time he'll have to become a better guy first. As passion blossoms between the Byron-esque demigod and the girl-next-door Jane -- the combination of Portman's thin, angled, Cleopatra-esque brows with her hazel eyes, petite frame and seductive whine give her a unique ambrosial nobility -- the Danielle Steele cover art begins to take shape and, predictably, love foments change.
It's a sweet message, but Thor ends up a rather untidy film. Its plot points don't run congruent or seamless to one another. The Men In Black show up at Thor's dusty landing sight and declare it a hot zone merely so our hero can break down the walls in a fruitless attempt to recapture his beloved hammer. The same government suits confiscate a truck load of Jane's "very important" scientific junk -- junk that has little significance within the plot's limited boundaries. And Branagh, the great dramatist, never misses a chance for a canted angle, swirling vista, or slow-mo closeup of Hamlet, errr a Thor, covered in sweat and tears. Audiences are sure to love the 3-D visual feast of this Norse extravaganza, but with Branagh's penchant for the stage still in mind, I would've enjoyed more of oafish Bottom slamming goblets than of the Danish Prince holding skulls.