By Susan JAMES
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh is generally known for his take on Shakespearian epics, “Henry V,” “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” so it is no wonder that when faced with directing the thunderous saga of comic book hero/god Thor he frames his epic as a quasi-Henry V. Like the rebel prince who defeated the French and became a wise if short-lived king, Thor is the quarrelsome, arrogant heir of the all-powerful Odin. The family lives and rules on a planet called Asgard, connected by mystical electrical links to eight other planets including Earth. Peace has reigned on Asgard since Odin, played with panache by Anthony Hopkins, defeated his chief enemy, the evil king of the frost giants Laufey, ruler of the planet Jotunheim.
In that last climactic battle, Odin rescued Laufey’s abandoned baby son Loki and took him back to Asgard to raise as his own. This act of charity has devastating consequences for the peace of the planets as Loki grows up initially ignorant of his true parentage and bitterly jealous of brother Thor. On the day that Thor is to be crowned king, Loki entices him and his followers to attack Jotunheim and break the peace with Laufey. Odin is forced to rescue his hot-headed son. He angrily strips Thor of his powers and exiles him to Earth and the deserts of rural New Mexico. Thrown out of Asgard with him is his signature hammer but the now mortal Thor is unable even to lift it.
The recent battle in the heavens creates a series of celestial events observed on Earth by dedicated astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) from her base in New Mexico. When Thor arrives in a cyclone, Jane, her sister and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (a sterling Stellan Skarsgard) are on the spot.
They are quickly drawn into every sky man’s dilemma upon reaching Planet Earth. The extraterrestrial baddies are in hot pursuit; the U.S. government is out to get him and he left his weapon in his other suit. From here it’s just a matter of time before Thor falls in love with Jane, learns humility, reclaims his hammer, defeats his enemies and returns to confront the mischief-making Loki, thus re-establishing himself back home in his father’s good graces.
Although the story of quarreling brothers is as old as Cain and Abel, Branagh makes the most of his comic book material and frames his scenes with dazzling Hubbell-like star bursts presented in 3D splendor. Aussie buff hunk Chris Hemsworth makes a worthy Thor trying hard to give the angry deity some nuance as a tortured hero. Portman is less convincing as a serious scientist, confining her portrayal to girlish giggles and sly sideways glances. The standout performances that anchor a frivolous fairytale securely in a world of greater myth are Hopkins as Odin, Skarsgard as Selvig and particularly Tom Hiddleston’s tormented Loki. Their portrayals reference a more complex realm where son plotting against father and brother against brother created the mythology of legends that storytellers still mine today.
Shakespeare would have recognized it immediately.
See you at the movies!