The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Chris Hemsworth definitely looks the part of Thor.

Anyone who knows me - or reads enough of this website - knows that I love superheroes. Thor was not one I was overly familiar with, though. What knowledge I had of him came from his cameo appearances in other characters' adventures, or from his participation in the superhero collective known as the Avengers. For this reason, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect out of Thor, but I'm happy to report that the movie is crazy-good fun whether you're already into this character or just a newcomer.

Chris Hemsworth plays the title character, the God of Thunder and son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the ruler of Asgard. Thor, albeit for righteous reasons, re-ignites a long-dormant war between Asgard and a race of ice people. Because of his actions, an angry Odin exiles Thor to Earth, where he is discovered in the New Mexico desert by a team of scientists (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard) exploring the possibility of wormholes that lead to other worlds. His presence on our planet draws the attention of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), a high-ranking member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (If you don't know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is in comics lore, don't sweat it; this and other Marvel movies are setting the stage for it.) Back on Asgard, Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) pulls a power play designed to further inflame the war and banish his sibling from Odin's favor once and for all. These elements converge, putting the Earth in imminent danger. With the power of his hammer, Thor sets out to prevent a catastrophe.

I've never been into gods and mythology, so Thor was a superhero who just didn't seem as cool to me as Spider-Man or the Hulk did. It is to the film's credit that it doesn't matter whether you already like this sort of thing. Thor has that quintessential Marvel-movie feel that made the Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man pictures so enjoyable. The action is exciting, there's a strong emphasis on character development, and a healthy dose of humor flavors the entire production. One senses that somebody at Marvel is really guiding all these adaptations to ensure they consistently have comparable qualities.

The director is Kenneth Branagh, best known for his big screen interpretations of the works of Shakespeare. I have to admit having a WTF? moment when I heard he had been signed to helm the film. After seeing the final product, I understand it. The machinations between Thor, Loki, and Odin have a definite Shakespearian feel; there's a lot of stuff in the plot about power struggles and paternal approval/disapproval. Branagh handles those elements well, while also showing himself adapt at special effects-laden action scenes. I like that he finds some unique approaches to the action sequences, so they don't feel like a million others you've seen.

A typical problem with movies about mythological gods is cheesiness; some of them look downright dopey (and I'm talking to you, Clash of the Titans remake). Thor almost miraculously gets around the pitfalls. The whole design of the film - from costumes, to sets, to visual effects - feels creative rather than familiar. I found myself getting drawn in by how inventive it was. That's a big deal, because if a superhero story isn't thrilling to behold, the overall impact will be diminished. Thor exudes a perfect larger-than-life vibe that continually contributes to its entertainment value.

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is not well known in America (yet), but he has certainly hit the jackpot, scoring the lead in a big budget Hollywood superhero flick. He's fantastic: believable in the action scenes, while also exhibiting some dramatic range and a flair for comedy. The other humans - even Portman - are less colorful, probably to have their normalcy offset Thor's grandiosity. You really can't complain, though. Everyone in the cast is solid, each of them working to make a top-notch comic book flick.

I enjoyed Thor immensely. I've sat though a lot of superhero movies, and I believe that to be successful, they absolutely need to be exciting, engaging on a character/story level, and a little bit funny. All three of these criteria are met by the guy with the massive hammer. I'm excited to see where he goes next.

( 1/2 out of four)

A Note on the 3D: Thor is a post-conversion, meaning that it was made in 2D, then given the extra dimension later on. Post-conversions often look terrible. This one was better than I expected. While certainly not Avatar good, it's better than most other conversions I've seen. If you enjoy 3D, it's decent enough to pay the extra surcharge for; if you're generally less enthusiastic about 3D, opt for the 2D version, because you won't be missing anything essential.

Thor is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.