Thor is a comic-book superhero movie with a split personality. There is weighty drama in the Kingdom of Asgard, while the tone of the film becomes flippant and funny when it lands on Earth. The end result is fairly enjoyable but easily forgettable, because neither aspect of the story completely takes hold.
Newcomer Chris Hemsworth is well-showcased as the muscular but impetuous Norse god, who vies with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for the approval of their father, King Odin (played with ultimate gravitas by Anthony Hopkins). When Thor is cast out, along with his mighty hammer, and comes to our planet in the present day, he runs smack into a scientific researcher (Natalie Portman) who’s been exploring strange phenomena in the night sky over New Mexico.
Portman takes her work seriously, but in the context of the movie her character—
—provides romantic interest—in a surprisingly old-fashioned way—as well as comedy relief, although it’s her colleague, played by Kat Dennings, who gets most of the funny lines. (They both work with fatherly scientist Stellan Skarsgård.)
Much has been made of Kenneth Branagh directing Thor, and indeed the scenes in Asgard have a Shakespearean feeling, dealing as they do with power, love and betrayal. I appreciated the fact that Hiddleston underplays his role as the villainous brother, but I never felt an emotional connection to this crucial facet of the story. Thor didn’t feel real to me—that is to say, real enough for me to care. When he’s earthbound in New Mexico he’s something of a joke, and that does nothing to enhance his stature.
I was also put off by the utter artificiality of Asgard. It’s hard to imbue a set of characters with credibility when they’re play-acting on such clearly computer-enhanced sets. 3-D added nothing to the experience, I’m sorry to say.
On the plus side, Portman is lively and fun to watch, and the other supporting players do yeoman service, even Clark Gregg as the government goon.
So on one hand, the comedic moments in Thor (apparently layered onto the script by longtime Simpsons writer Don Payne) liven it up and add to its entertainment value; on the other hand, they undermine the serious story of a disgraced prince who seeks justice, redemption and forgiveness. Thor isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as it ought to be, given all the talent (and money) involved.