You most likely have no idea who Kenneth Branagh is but you probably should if you like quality movies. He's the director of Thor, the latest installment of the Marvel super franchise for The Avengers (due out next summer), which is about the God of Thunder who comes to Earth as a selfish Prince but leaves one of Earth's greatest heroes and protector.
Now, if you know who Branagh is based on his prior work, you may think he's an odd choice to direct a superhero movie. That's because, outside of being in Harry Potter and a few Woody Allen films, he's mostly known for being THE guy for bringing Shakespeare to Hollywood. His greatest accomplishment is the 4 hour version of Hamlet that he starred in, directed and produced. So is doing Thor a step down for him? Not one bit. The story of Thor is one right out of Shakespeare. It involves a King, played by Anthony Hopkins, having a hard time convincing his wild son Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) that he's not fit to be the new King until he learns humility, patience and respect. Sounds almost like the prequel to Hamlet, doesn't it?
In case you haven't been brought up to speed yet by the closest comic book nerd in your life, Thor is part of a larger storyline called The Avengers. It started in 2008 with Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk, then continued with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and will continue in a month with Captain America. These films can be enjoyed on their own but they are also interconnected through mutual characters and hidden goodies throughout the film.
I have to admit that I'm more excited about The Avengers story than I am about Thor and that staggered my enjoyment of Thor at first. I was disappointed that there wasn't more about The Avengers in Thor but then I remembered that these character films MUST be able to stand alone as quality action movies, I was able to enjoy it much more.
Thor is a bright and intriguing movie that successfully gets you to buy into the world of the Gods that Thor comes from and how he interacts with the humans on Earth, where he meets Natalie Portman's character. It has above adequate character development and lots of very funny scenes. Sadly though the action is few and rushed when you get it. If you yawn from the lack of pulse in the climaxes of the film you will have missed them because they're so short. I guess that was the trade-off with having Branagh direct it; you know you'll get a great looking, character driven film but you'll probably also get some pretty weak ass kicking. Although this is a superhero movie, that didn't ruin it for me though. It almost reminded me of the first Iron Man movie which had a similar problem with its action to character ratio. But everyone loved Iron Man, as I'm sure everyone will love Thor. I just wish the action would have brought the hammer down a little harder.
Thor (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B