By Steve Persall
Times Staff Writer
Arguably the longest and most expensive preview trailer ever, Thor lands in theaters with a bit of a thud. That isn't entirely the movie's fault; comic books starring the Norse god never appealed to me as much as other Marvel superheroes, many of which haven't inspired great movies either.
Thor works fine for me as an ensemble member of the Avengers, the Marvel Comics all-star team getting its own movie in 2012. This $150 million film and the Captain America flick later this summer are cagey setups for a megablockbuster. Iron Man and Hulk are proven commodities. Samuel L. Jackson's cameos as Avengers honcho Nick Fury — stay through the end credits — always get the crowd buzzing.
But as geek duties go, Thor fits the bill for Marvel fans eager to see what a piece of a movie coming a year from now looks like.
Chris Hemsworth is a strapping fellow with a sly grin, granite profile and blond locks that would look good hanging out the back of a football helmet. He's no threat to upstage Jackson or Robert Downey Jr., and probably not Chris Evans, who'll play Captain America. Hemsworth is eye candy with an occasional rascally wink, attributes that will serve him well as a sideshow attraction in The Avengers.
Like all origin flicks, Thor gets bogged down in details at times, although on a striking astral plane. Scenes depicting Thor's fall from the grace of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), occur in the marvelously designed world of Asgard, cast in amber hues with a digital cast of thousands. I loved the Bifrost Bridge constructed of glowing crystals, leading to the gods' wormhole to Earth, and guarded by Heimdall (Idris Elba), a standout character.
Angered by Thor's impetuous breach of peace with the Frost Giants ruled by King Laufey (Colm Feore), Odin confiscates his magic hammer and grounds him to Earth. Thor is discovered in the desert by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her skeptical colleagues Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Kat Dennings). They'll start believing Thor's story when government agents begin snooping around his landing site.
Unknown to Thor is that Odin embedded his hammer in a rock and flung it to Earth, adding an Arthurian sword-in-the-stone angle. Whoever deserves to rule Asgard will wield the hammer. Since Thor blew his chance, his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) figures it's his turn.
All that director Kenneth Branagh must do with Thor is not mess it up, and he succeeds. But that isn't enough. The results aren't as exhilarating as the first Iron Man, but Downey can't play every superhero. Thor treads perilously through broody shadows and Oedipal themes recalling the first Hulk movie, and that can't be good since Marvel took a mulligan on it. For sheer fun and action, I'd prefer seeing Fast Five again.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.