The new Marvel Comics movie Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is equal parts trippy, tacky, and monumental, the blend surprisingly agreeable, a happy change from all those aggressively down-to-earth superhero flicks like Iron Man.
Of course, half the film is literally down-to-earth, after the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), heir to throne of the “mystical realm of Asgard,” is banished by his royally pissed-off father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), to our world, where he looks like another muscled-up surfer dude with a Norse-god complex and manages to dazzle Natalie Portman as, fer sher, a visionary astrophysicist. But the picture’s extraterrestrial setting, over the rainbow bridge, attended by the magisterial guardian of the gods, Heimdall (Idris Elba), is like the most stoned dinner-theater production of The Ring of the Nibelungs you’ll ever be lucky enough to ogle. Branagh was weaned on Shakespeare’s histories and plainly relishes the grandiose trappings; the thundering entrances and exeunts; the wily machinations of Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston); and all those kingly tantrums.
The CGI prologue, it should be said, is deafeningly clunky, but things improve thereafter. Branagh chose as his designer Bo Welch, who learned from Tim Burton that no dimension should ever go unexaggerated. Simple geometric shapes — bridges and gateways and squarish thrones — are too long and wide to be of human scale, and are all the more delightful for it, while Alexandra Byne’s crowns are LOL without being campy, as if fashioned from the horns of bulls subjected to macabre gravitational pranks. I nodded, impressed, at the scale of the Frost Guards, gigantic icicle men with glowing red eyes, and was tempted to stand and salute the colossal robotic Destroyer, which plummets from Asgard to the New Mexican desert, producing a cloud of dirt seen for miles, and then rises to smite Thor and the loyal band of Norse pals who’ve come to his aid.
Those Asgard comrades are like decent actors doing time in an honorably second-rate regional rep company: They’re likable enough. Hemsworth, a rather bland Aussie who comes belly-button high to his late countryman Heath Ledger, might, with work, rise to the pectorals. Then there’s Portman, who, as usual, tries too hard, coming off as a mass of self-conscious tics and too-big teeth. But I liked her, too. She’s game, and she doesn’t condescend to the material. A giant notch up is Hiddleston, who’d make a good Edmund in Lear: You register the chip on his shoulder rather than the villainy. And what a shock that Hopkins isn’t high on the hog. When he unloads on Thor, he’s all there — one imagines the other actors dodging the flecks of spittle.