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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo, Ray Stevenson
DIRECTED BY
Kenneth Branagh
SCREENPLAY
Ashley Miller, Don Payne, Zack Stentz, J.Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
114 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Paramount Pictures
DVD EXTRAS
Commentary by Director Kenneth Branagh
– 4 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary (TRT 6:41)
        - Thor and Loki Before the Coronation (2:58)
        - Warriors 3 and Sif Turn Over Their Weapons (1:19)
        - Frigga Confronts Odin (1:11)
        - Selvig sings with Thor (1:13)
– Road to The Avengers  (2:55)
 "Thor" Review 
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In case you're wondering, C+ IS a recommendation from The Independent Critic.

Barely.

Despite its Oscar pedigree cast and Shakespearean influenced director, Thor is far more fluff than buff despite the presence of Chris Hemsworth as the  Norse god or the buffed up Rocky Horror.

It's probably not fair to pick on Hemsworth, who's actually far better than expected given the film's cornball movie trailers that make the film look a heck of a lot more like a B-movie than what actually unfolds. Truthfully, Thor is not a bad film despite its committee-drafted dialogue, inferior 3-D, cheesy production design and what may very well be the year's most irritating original score so far.

Hemsworth is definitely not the problem here. In fact, the biggest problem may be director Kenneth Branagh, who's a wonderful director with the right material. This is not the right material. Branagh manages to infuse Thor with nice touches of humanity, but is completely out of his element when it comes to balancing everything with special effects, action, fight choreography and the film's superhero element.

It seems as if Branagh is trying to head towards the Iron Man direction with Thor, creating larger than life action sequences inter-mixed with ample doses of self-deprecating humor for the character of Thor and even touches of faux romance that add a nice emotional resonance to what is otherwise your stereotypical summer blockbuster type of flick. While Thor is nowhere near as entertaining nor as well constructed as Iron Man or, for that matter, Iron Man 2, the film has enough entertaining moments to warrant a modest recommendation and, sadly, to lament over the missed opportunity to create summer's first really entertaining popcorn flick.

As Thor begins, Thor (Hemsworth) is preparing to succeed his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), as ruler of Asgard, which is in a land in a different realm that is connected to earth by the bifrost, which sort of resembles a yellow brick road that Elton John might create. The bifrost sort of reminded me of this godawful plaid jacket I wore throughout high school that pretty much guaranteed my virginity would remain intact until college.

Oh, and it did.

Unfortunately, those dastardly Frost Giants (don't ask, really!) start some mischief and Thor's crowning gets delayed long enough for him to tick off his generally peaceful father who determines that Thor is not yet worthy of the throne. Thor gets banished to Earth,while his truly mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), usurps the throne and begins to wreak havoc in Asgard.

Meanwhile, down on Earth our superhero is initially decidedly less super after he plops down on the research van of scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) and her intern and a good part of the film's comic relief, Darcy (Kat Dennings). Of course, we go through the inevitable "fish out of water" type scenes, along with the obligatory scenes of Jane swooning over the buffed up Thor. Somewhat surprisingly, these scenes mostly work despite their predictability. While Hemsworth should, indeed, be first in line should a Rocky Horror remake ever show up, the actor has the ability to exude a self-deprecating charm that works quite nicely opposite Portman's usual "girl next door" shtick. Dennings, while not exactly given much to do, has a spirit and energy quite like Portman's and they complement each other nicely.

There's an awful lot about Thor that doesn't work, and it could very well be a testament to either the cast, the material or to Branagh that the film manages to entertain almost despite itself.

Iron Man and, to a lesser degree Iron Man 2, succeeded because it almost perfectly managed to blend science and humanity, action and humor, heart and hurt. In its best moments, Thor gets the balance right and shows glimpses of greatness. Too often, however, something not so great happens and what could have been a really awesome scene ends up being not much more than mediocre.

The fight choreographer, Gary Ray Stearns, creates scenes that are often anticlimactic, confusing and busy for what feels like the sake of busyness. Several scenes involve hardcore (or hardcore for a PG-13 rated film) action sequences, yet they unfold with a disappointing lack of clarity and cohesiveness.

D.P. Haris Zambarloukos can't quite figure out how to compensate for the inevitable darker tones that come with a 3-D film, the result being far too many scenes that make the land of Asgard look like a trip through chintzeltown. At one point, I found myself thinking about that hit rap song "Grillz" as I looked at the bifrost and wondered what it would be like to be wearing it in my mouth.

To round out the film's tech issues, Patrick Doyle manages to serve up what may be the year's most irritatingly bland AND overwrought original score that companions the film in the same way a right-to-lifer would companion a pregnant teenager to Planned Parenthood.

You can figure that one out for yourself.

Thor is solid proof that a solid cast alone isn't enough to make a film great. It is the cast that helps make Thor a decent film, with Aussie Hemsworth being franchise-worthy and Natalie Portman turning on her usual relaxed, winning charm. Anthony Hopkins BARELY avoids over-acting as Odin, while Tom Hiddleston is solid as Loki. Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard and Idris Elba aren't given much room to play, but they do manage to mine their characters for some extra depth. Rene Russo may very well have the film's most thankless role as Odin's wife, essentially resigned to handing out maternal glances and mother superior snarkiness.

Being a creation of Marvel Comics, it goes without saying there are cinematic references to other upcoming films including a well publicized brief appearance by Jeremy Renner, who joins Natalie Portman in seeming to appear in virtually every film made these days, and good ole' Samuel L. Jackson making another cameo to prime us for his upcoming Nick Fury while Clark Gregg makes an appearance as Agent Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent.

Thor doesn't quite live up to its promise and doesn't come close to achieving its true potential, but odds are pretty strong that if you enjoyed the other Marvel flicks and this is your kind of film that you're going to at least enjoy the film to a certain degree. While Kenneth Branagh certainly brought a tremendous substance to the film, this might be one case where someone with a bit of a lighter touch and a greater action sensibility would have been a better choice to direct the film.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic   
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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