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Thursday, May 12, 2011 11:10 am

Thor visually muddled but worth seeing

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Marvel Entertainment’s grand plan of bringing its superhero team, The Avengers, to the big screen moves one step closer to fruition with the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. A god among mortal heroes, Thor, while not a B-string character, is hardly a household name on par with Spider-Man, yet his devoted following will rejoice at this energetic rendering of the character. Unfortunately, the film is not a complete success as it’s burdened by a dark visual palette, made even murkier by 3-D glasses, while Branagh’s inability to create a coherent action sequence generates more headaches than thrills.

Exiled from the heavenly realm of Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), for the sin of hubris, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is forced to live among mortals until he learns the lesson of humility. Making matters worse is that he’s been stripped of the source of his power, the mystic hammer Mjolnir, which has also been cast to Earth. This gets the attention of the mysterious government agency S.H.E.I.L.D. as well as astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who’s been studying unexplained phenomena in the area. She becomes even more stymied when she meets Thor and discounts his claims of being the God of Thunder, but she soon has to put her reservations aside when she finds herself in the middle of a scheme hatched by her new friend’s duplicitous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

With a budget of $150 million, Branagh has every resource at his disposal to bring Asgard to life, and it’s quite a sight. With its soaring temples, color-streaked sky and Rainbow Bridge, you’re firmly convinced you’ve been transported to a realm where gods stride forth. However, so much of the film’s first hour is shot in the dark world of the Frost Giants, it’s often hard to pick out any particular details because Branagh’s visuals are so murky. The action scenes that take place throughout are a mess as well – they’re composed of quick shots, blurred movements and a lack of visual coherency. Throw in the dark lenses of 3-D glasses and you have a frustrating filmgoing experience.

Branagh was brought on to handle the story’s Shakespearean overtones and its grand themes of honor, betrayal and redemption. He executes these moments with the proper gravity and shows a surprising penchant for humor. Once on Earth, Thor is adrift, a god out of place, frustrated by his sudden lack of power and befuddled by modern means that thwart him. Equally funny are the mortals’ reactions to him as Foster and the others are perplexed by this charming lug who demands more coffee by smashing his cup to the floor of a diner and wolfs down pancakes faster than they can be made.

Hemsworth is quite a find here, properly regal, unafraid to poke fun at himself and physically able to convince us that he’s a god among men. Branagh is able to help Hopkins avoid his bad habit of delivering a huge slice of ham with films such as these, as he generates a fair dose of King Lear to a role that could have been as flat as its source material. Portman is fine as well, convincing as a woman able to understand complex sciences but still get flustered around Thor and allow herself to be swept off her feet. There’s a genuine spark between her and Hemsworth and I’m eager to see them together once more. Hopefully when I do, it’ll be in a movie that doesn’t, at times, seem as though I’m looking at it through a thick haze.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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