Branagh lives up to the expectations of the Marvel Norse realms using enough inky spectacle and quality schtick to satisfy any age demographic. The respected director, known for his classical Shakespeare does one daring thing here: he treats superheroes as if they are real players on our cosmic stage. And indeed they are.
Branagh spares no expense for the delight of our eyes. He puts us deep in the valley of New Mexico, echoing all the tension of Speilberg and then he takes us to an Art Deco phallic dream of an Asgard beyond the clouds. Each realm is treated as very real. As in a dream or a Dali painting, each dimension is crystal clear. There is so much gold and solar sensationalism in set design that Julie Taymor herself might well turn radioactive with envy.
The plot concerns Thor, delightfully played with humor and heart by Chris Hemsworth. Thor wants to protect his father's domain with a preemptive strike against The Frost Giants who look like towering Satan creatures right out of Milton. Thor won't listen to the rationale of his dear old dad Odin, and he is cast out for the Sin of pride and banished. Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) finds Thor and all his muscles in New Mexico while chasing some storms.
Then the fun starts. The freewheeling joy and the heart of the film is due to Hemsworth, who plays his ultra grandiose hero with enough naive charm and comedy, making the God of Thunder almost human. Here is a hero of the realms who fights leviathans two by two, but is no match for a taser. And Natalie Portman hits him with her all-terrain Humvee twice.
Thor speaks in abrupt formalities, drinks beer from huge steins and is both bemused and confused by the human world. The best thing about Thor: if he says he is going to do something he does it---no apologies, no regrets.
Hemsworth has terrific timing. He knows when to ham it up and when to show the usual moral fortitude and make it authentic. Not since Christopher Reeve as Superman has there been such an entertaining mixture of camp and circumstance. Hemsworth is both boyish and adult in his portrayal and this strikes the perfect contrast for an archetypal comic of a fallen angel. The charm of the movie, whether you follow Marvel Comics or not, is Branagh's detail and his intent to give both Asgard and Earth equal validity with enough time and space for an entertaining story. The characters here are larger than life. But once our hero finds his huge arms around the kitchen table making omelets, the effect is poignant and human. Surrealist Paul Eluard famously said that "there is another world and it exists within this one." Watching Thor you will believe it. And you'll cheer with Portman's quoting of Arthur C. Clarke, that "magic is just science that we don't understand."
Branagh makes it easy for us to cheer. But he also raises his Marvel Metal Gods to a semi- Shakespearean level. He makes us laugh in bold strokes, but we also are compelled by the human in our delinquent demigod. And in sympathy, right along with Thor and his mighty hammer, we can jump to our seats in a leap of faith.Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org