By and large, superhero movies are rousing financial successes. They had better be, they only cost a few hundred million dollars to make. In anticipation of the upcoming ‘Avengers’ movie, we first need to introduce the Thor character to the movie going public. What better movie to do that than ‘Thor’?

In a realm other than our own, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) king of Asgard, is about to have his eldest son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) succeed him on the throne. The ceremony is interrupted by a few attacking Frost Giants, the rivals of Asgard. They unsuccessfully attempt to retrieve the Casket of Ancient Winters which is the source of their powers and is in Odin’s possession after an earlier war between the two.

Vowing revenge and after being encouraged by his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor defies his father’s wishes and assembles a group of his closest friends/warriors to visit the Frost Giants’ home of Jutenheim. They arrive and create a ruckus, bringing both worlds to the brink of war again. Odin is displeased. The king banishes Thor to Earth for his disobedience, stripping him of his powers.

On Earth, specifically New Mexico, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is doing research, aided by intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). During what appears to be part massive storm and part meteorite landing, they encounter a man (Thor) at the crash site. Taking him in, they attempt to understand who he is and where he came from. His hammer, Mjolnir, is also sent to Earth, only able to be wielded by Thor when he is truly worthy.

Will Thor learn a valuable lesson and be able to redeem himself to his father? Will Earth be able to handle all of the cosmic weirdness headed its way? What about the impending war between the realms?

When you start with interplanetary travel, it’s apparent that you’re dealing with a more ambitious yarn than the average superhero movie. It’s our first cinematic encounter with Thor, but rather than being a true origin story, it’s more about the character’s fall from grace and his struggle to regain his mojo. It’s also far more character-driven than most of these Marvel offerings. Sure, there is some action, but it sort of plays out in a more Shakespearean fashion than you might imagine. With Kenneth Branagh directing, that actually makes a lot of sense. He is a strange choice to put behind the camera, though. He isn’t quite as adept at dealing with exaggerated computer animated battle sequences as some other veterans.

We gets a glimpse of Earth at the film’s start, but it’s really an unnecessary inclusion. There is at least a good half hour worth of exposition that takes place in Asgard and Jotunheim. The backstory is mutl-faceted and a little bit involved. Certainly more so than a teen being bitten by a spider or a scientist being zapped by radiation.

Much like another excellent Marvel (and another piece of the ‘Avengers’ puzzle) film, ‘Iron Man,’ Thor has an climax that isn’t bad, but is a little abrupt and disjointed. The pacing, emphasis on family drama, and the relatively short, relatively infrequent action sequences are the only reason a comic book fan might have a problem with this. These aren’t even criticisms, but a description of the film’s contents. Knowing this will really help to assure that you don’t expect nonstop action and fight sequences.

Chris Hemworth looks the part and isn’t asked to be overly emotive, but was a good choice. Natalie Portman doesn’t do a bad job at all, but most of the Earthlings are a little on the bland side. They don’t have much to do outside of having varying opinions/theories about Thor and to help to orient him in their world. The truly meaty roles belong to the dwellers of Asgard. Anthony Hopkins always makes a good patriarch and Tom Hiddleston is fine as the jealous Loki. One likeable character not mentioned above is Heimdall (Idris Elba), the gatekeeper who allows the transport from Asgard to other realms. Some people may have raised concerns about the casting of Elba in the role, but no matter how much of a stickler you are for comic book accuracy, his performance is hard to fault.

Special features include: deleted scenes, a featurette about ‘The Avengers,’ and commentary.

Most superfans should enjoy ‘Thor.’ On its own, it feels a little incomplete, but you have to realize that it’s just an introduction for the character. Expect the full potential of Thor to be unleashed in future installments and ‘The Avengers.’ On its own terms, it is definitely in the better half of superhero movies to come out over the last few years.

Like all of the other films in the series, stick around after the credits! There is a short, but revelatory scene.

Rated PG-13               114 minutes           2011

This post was written by:

J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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