Thor: Kenneth Branagh’s Super-Hero, Starring Chris Hemsworth and Anthont Hopkins

As far as comic book screen adaptations go, Thor is an uneven movie, full of incoherencies, some produced by design, while others not.

The saga, which changes locale, plot, and tone from scene to scene, is both genuinely humorous and laughably ridiculous.

Kenneth Branagh’s big screen version of the Marvel source material is by turns corny and cool, old-fashioned and modern, cheesy and classy, Shakespearean and banal, mythic and realistic, heavenly and earthly, straightforward and loopy, serious and risible.

“Thor” represents a new kind of hybrid, an overbaked mishmash of themes and conventions. It’s an overly eager (though not ambitious), perhaps even effort to please any number of demographic groups, young and old, white and black, male and female.

“Thor” is one of the cheesiest movies to have come out of amajor studio in a long time. Yet after struggling with the film for half an hour, during which I fought back with my incurable critical approach, I succumbed to its infantile, corny nature and almost (emphasis on almost) willed myself to have fun.

While watching the movie, which is overwrought in every respect (plot, characters, and artistic design, I began counting the movies from which “Thor” borrows its imagery, heroes and anti-heroes, and even specific lines of dialogue.  The movie reaches a nadir toward the end, when it pays tribute to Michael Baye and his dreadful “Transformers” franchise.

Some context is in order: In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced “The Mighty Thor” to readers of Marvel Comics, launching a new era of action-adventure with their take on the hammer-wielding Norse god.  A member of the super hero team “The Avengers,” “Thor” emerged from the same Marvel Comics pen that had previously created “Iron Man,” “The Fantastic Four,” “The X-Men,” and “Spiderman.”

Director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible, straightforward, mildly enjoyable fantasy epic adventure.  But the narrative has no internal (or any other) logic, and no rules to obey or limits.  Which means that any and every convenient subplot is utilized by the director and his writers, depending on the need of the moment.

The saga begins with a dramatic event at the present time in a remote SouthWest desert. It then quickly jumps back in time to the kingdom of Asgard, which is ultra-shining in every possible way: visually, thematically, and metaphorically; there’s more cheap-looking gold and silver on screen than ever seen in a Hollywood movie before.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the hansome elder son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is the natural heir to the throne.  At first, he comes across as an arrogant, overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive manner threatens a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim.

Enraged by his son’s disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact, Odin banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth. As a result, Asgard becomes defenseless against the treachery of Loki, his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor.

Powerless and confused, the lost Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings), who help him reclaim his former glory and defend the world from total mass destruction.

Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster, an eccentric research scientist who is conducting fieldwork on some unexplainable phenomena in the night sky. Though focused on her research, and projecting the image of an esoteric scholar, she takes special interest in Thor.  One of the film’s running jokes is that while driving her truck, Jane hits Thor not once but three times (Not to worry, he always gets up and goes back to what he was doing before the accident).

The names of the characters, to be sure, are odd, but once you get used to them, you realize how manipulative and  calculated is the decision of the creators to ground the story in rather familiar and universal conflicts, the kinds of which have driven human dramas ever since the Greek tragedies.

Take the central characters, which could be summed up in one sentence.  A son who’s impatient to prove his worth to his father.  A lethally resentful brother who suffers from inferiority complex.  A monarch father who has buried some family secrets deep inside him. A young, bright woman who helps a man see the world anew.

Nost surprisngly, the tensions and ensuing arguments revolve around royal intrigues that get nastier and bloodier,  paranoia that leads to a deadly vendetta, masculine pride that goes before a fall,  needs to establish a strong sense of (heroic) identity, based on truth.

The connection among all the characters is offered by Thor, a guy whose determined and headstrong nature that stands between him and succeeding his father as the good and legitimate King of Asgard. He is burdened by flashes of anger, shortsighted decisions, rash actions, all obstacles to becoming the king. The message: Extraordinary physique and successful track record in battle are not enough to prepare the prince for gaining the trust of and leading his people.

In his muddled direction, Branagh has decided to emphasize more the characters’ primal qualities, their varied weaponry, and their sheer physical heft, than their human motivations.  Unfortunately, his utterly imperonal strategy offers no visual or other pleasures. In fact, many of the scenes, including those depciting brutal combats, are poorly staged, shot, and edited.

The whole movie is over the top.  Just the sight of muscled heroes this side of Schwarzenegger talking and behaving like British royalty while walking around a small town in New Mexico, U.S.A. in period attire (Which period? Never mind) will raise your eyebrows—and more than once.

Yet there are some compensations.   Chris Hemsworth, the handsome Aussie actor cast as Thor, is tall, blond, muscled, and muscular, but he also exhibits softer, vulnerable, romantic elements, which should increase his appeal among female viewers.   Though  is actingin the dramatic scenes  is still a bit stiff, he is endowed with a good voice, and with some experience he may become a viable Hollywood action star.

There’s good rapport between him and Natalie Portman, who plays his love interest.  At first they look odd together: Portman is attractive but very slender and short, and standing next to Hemsworth makes her even smaller.  But you’ve got to admire her acting skills, the fact that she manages to keep a straight face while delivering some unintentionally funny lines.

With a running time of over two hours, this repetitive picture overextends its welcome by at least 20 or 30 minutes.  The last reel is particularly weak, banal, and corny, because the viewers are always ahead of the filmmakers.

Throughout the picture, I felt that the actors were winking at each other and at the audience, sort of saying, “We are willing to do anything and everything to entertain you, so long as you suspend disbelief.”

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