Created by the legendary Stan Lee back in the early '60s, it's taken almost a half-century for Thor to arrive on the big screen. Although the character was based upon the God of Thunder in Norse mythology, he's probably now better known as a member of the Avengers, the intrepid team of crime-fighting superheroes led by Captain America and also including Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Incredible Hulk.
This worthwhile adaptation was directed by four-time Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh, and stars Chris Hemsworth in the title role, an Australian actor who bears a striking resemblance to a young Brad Pitt. The supporting ensemble is stacked with an abundance of accomplished thespians, including Academy Award-winners Natalie Portman (for Black Swan) and Anthony Hopkins (for The Silence of the Lambs), as well as Rene Russo, Jeremy Renner, Stellan Skarsgard, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba and Colm Feore.
A virtually-seamless mix of live-action and animated special effects, the film unfolds in line with the genre's familiar "origins" formula. Thus, it is primarily concerned with informing the audience of Thor's back story before setting us up for the sequel, namely, The Avengers, which is already slated for a spring 2012 release.
This episode unfolds in Asgard, a remote realm of the universe where we find aging King Odin (Hopkins) weighing which of his two heirs, Thor or Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to crown as his replacement. He makes up his mind when the former's warlike nature fractures his country's fragile peace with a neighboring race of creatures called the Frost Giants. So, Odin decides to teach his bellicose son a lesson by banishing him to Earth, but not before separating him from his mighty hammer.
Then, when Thor crash lands in New Mexico, he is hit by a car containing a trio of stargazers: his obvious, future love interest, Jane Foster (Portman); her ditzy sidekick, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings); and astrophysicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard). Reduced to a mere mortal on this planet, a frustrated Thor must recuperate in a hospital until he's well enough to mount a search for the trusty hammer his father tossed elsewhere in the desert.
Meanwhile, trouble's brewing back on Asgard where it has come to light that Loki is not really his brother, but the adopted evil seed of Laufey (Feore), the diabolical Lord of the Frost Giants. Can Thor find his fearsome mallet and figure out how to hightail it back to his home planet in time for an epic showdown to prevent the pretender from ascending to the throne?
Not merely an entertaining enough intro to Thor, but a roots adventure cleverly laying the groundwork for what's in store from The Avengers and other planned extensions of the Marvel franchise.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence.
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
To see a trailer for Thor, visit The Skanner's YouTube Channel