Norse mythology in sci-fi drag
Back in the day, Marvel Comics’ Thor was a cool Coles Notes for kids who couldn’t make the leap to getting books on Norse myths out of the library: with his rippling musculature, multi-purpose hammer, and elevated speech mode that came trippingly off the tongue like poor man’s Shakespeare, Thor was one rockin’ dude. Most of those qualities come through in the movie adaptation, although it’s a bit of a struggle.
The story is a creaky melange of B-movie tropes: the reckless and arrogant son-who-would-be-king (that’s Thor, if you never studied the comics); a rivalry between Thor and his brother, Loki; and a long-standing blood feud between Thor’s kingdom of Asgard and the brutal race of the Frost Giants. But rather than play it as straight mythology, the moviemakers have derived considerable inspiration out of science fiction, from intra-galactic travel through swirling stellar cloudstorms to baroquely designed sets reminiscent of many an old space opera.
After a ponderous start, the movie picks up the pace when an over-reaching Thor reignites an ancient war and grumpy Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes his son to Earth to learn some much-needed humility. Cut to a motley crew of physicists who are studying unusual astronomical phenomena out in the New Mexico desert.
Leading the charge is Jane Foster (Oscar winner Natalie Portman), a pert star watcher who gets more than she bargained for when she literally runs into Thor in the middle of nowhere. Jane’s mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) has Nordic blood and lots of worldly experience — both of which qualify him to advise Jane that Thor is crazy and possibly dangerous. Dangerously handsome is more like it — a fact happily confirmed by the requisitely sarcastic research assistant, here named Darcy (Kat Dennings, she of the saucy eyes and bee-stung lips, who first came to notice in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist).
As Thor adjusts to Earth, and earthlings adjust to Thor, there is a fair amount of genial comedy that acts as a counterpoint to the heavy-handed intrusion by a top secret and heavily armed group of government bossy-pants that has swooped into the area to investigate the upsurge in energy that’s been sparked by all that Asgard-to-Earth space travel. Meanwhile, sinister schemes bedevil Asgard, and Odin’s life hangs in the balance. Cue Thor’s best warrior buddies, who enter the fray and help our hero vanquish all evil.
By Odin’s beard I declare this to be silly, entertaining fun, albeit heavy on the cheese. The CGI effects look dated, and it’s such a slapdash pastiche of a few dozen other movies (everything from The Hulk to Contact) that director Kenneth Branagh is reduced to the role of a traffic cop trying to prevent this cavalcade of pop-culture bumper cars from turning into a 10-vehicle pileup.
The acting is merely okay, with Aussie soap star Chris Hemsworth bringing a touch of self-deprecating humour to his portrayal of the fallen god. For his part, Hopkins is uninspired and Portman seems closer to a cosmetologist than a cosmologist. And there is one unanswered question. After going to the trouble of filming in 3-D, why not fashion a more dimensional title, something likeThor: Ass-kicker From Asgard or Feel Thor’s Thunder: Saga of a Gnarly Norseman? Just asking. M
Norse purists would likely insist on a dram of mead (which is made on the Island these days). But after you’ve been on a high-cheese diet for two hours, your doctor would have thee put aside the honeyed liqueur in favour of a warrior-sized draught of hearty, cholesterol-busting red wine. If there is little in thine purse then the Woodbridge Zinfandel will suffice; those with trophy gold should buy a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon like Edge or Don Maximiano.