This Week’s Popcorn – ‘Thor’

Earns no Thunderous Roar

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Despite “Thor’s” predominantly summer flick intent, director Kenneth Branagh, who crafted his dramatic chops in the Shakespearean sphere, couldn’t help but add a bit of the Bard to this Marvel Comics take on Norse mythology, available in 3D. Complement that with a fine cast, and what might have been total tedium isn’t half bad.

Although largely operatic, and set in a multiple of domains courtesy of the bounteous basket of special effects employed, Branagh keeps his tale accessible by hinging it to basic soap opera sensibilities. ‘Tis a saga of power, love, hubris, sibling rivalry and oedipal angst. In other words, the stuff we all deal with on a regular basis.

But be warned, ye adolescents who thrive on the deluge of lore that generally accompanies such fantastical fare. While replete with a modicum of subject-specific vocabulary and a healthy smattering of folkways and mores that identify Thor and his culture, you don’t have to know the secret handshake or password to grok the story.

Gosh knows what year it is in whatever parallel or dimension Asgard exists. Maybe they don’t even have years. Still, it’s been home to Anthony Hopkins’s King Odin for as long as any of his loyal subjects can remember. It’s quite a place, where solids and space begin and drop off in artistic whimsy. Doubtless its architects obtained CGI long before we did.

But of course said technical advancement doesn’t render its superhero-quasi-gods immune to the jealousies and foibles that have long made their actions metaphorically instructive to us mortals. As we tune in, the brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are testily wrangling for who will take over the family business.

Odin, whose gold eye patch seems to change color with the same regularity that Loretta Young changed gowns, has a lot on his shoulders. Peace with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim is tenuous at best; he’s not as spry as he used to be; and now these kids, neither of whom is really ready to assume leadership, impatiently await his irrelevance.

In addition, there are lots of secret things going on in the background … matters that can only be peacefully resolved through astute statesmanship. Naturally, the young bucks don’t see it that way. Impulsive and longing for military glory, Thor figures the quickest way to advance up the career ladder while also saving the kingdom is through combat.

Loki’s scheme is a bit more subtle. In any case, impetuosity causes matters to go askew, and without giving too much of the plot away here, suffice it to note that Thor winds up in New Mexico, the United States, circa the present day. Contributing his two cents to the plot, Cupid sees to it that Thor’s welcoming committee includes scientist Jane Foster.

Hence, in a pairing even Yentl would be proud of, Chris Hemsworth’s handsome god of Thunder meets Natalie Portman’s woman of science. As worlds collide, the usual getting-to-know-you dance ensues. Hmm, seems this guy is quite a catch. Not only a potential king, albeit currently banished, the golden boy also appears hip to the women’s lib thing.

Yep, it’s a fantasy. Before long, Thor is even showing sincere interest in Jane’s work. But, no quicker than you can say trouble in paradise, enemies from the known world’s other eight realms are rearing their ugly heads, literally. And, in a respectful nod to every film about alien visitors, the government suits are soon trying to nab and study our boy.

Expect the usual buffet of battle sequences courtesy of the blue screen phantasmagoria procurable by any director with a few million bucks. But don’t anticipate any great shakes from the 3D application. Save for “Avatar” (2009), I haven’t been impressed by the process since the 7-year-old me was first wowed by “The House of Wax” (1953).

Could someone explain why some folks need to have various and sundry items jump out in their movie fare? Maybe it’s a vestigial effect of being read story books with pop-up pages. Gee, you’d think if it were that important to us, there’d be a lot more jack-in-the-box-type things in our daily lives. I mean, no plastic hand juts forth with our ATM cash.

Rarely does 3D contribute to a better enjoyment of the film. Plus, it puts poor Dad in a tough spot: Shell out the extra coin or appear an unloving piker. Ironically enough, what makes this better than most of its genre mates is director Branagh’s decision to accent the fable and leave out a lot of the obfuscating garbage. In the case of “Thor,” less is more.

“Thor,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins. Running time: 114 minutes