One day, there will be a superhero tale that doesn't bother with the origin story about the radioactive spider bite, the exploding planet, or the gamma/cosmic rays. It will dispense with the MacGuffin tedium of what made the superhero and dive right into the truth and ramifications of his or her existence. What a day of celebration that will be.
Today is not that day. Today belongs to Thor, a film shot through with exposition, labored plot, and set-up. If your only exposure to the Marvel comic-book hero Thor is from Adventures in Babysitting, you've got a lot to learn. And Thor has a lot to tell you.
We learn all about the frost giants, who terrorized Norway until 965 A.D., when benevolent immortal beings led by Odin drove back the giants before returning to their home realm, Asgard.
This tale is told by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to his two kids, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor is arrogant; Loki is aloof and tricksy. Thor incurs his father's wrath for a rash act that threatens the peace of the universe, so he is banished to the realm Midgard (earth) so that he can learn humility. Odin also sends Thor's weapon, Mjolnir, a hammer of no mean power.
On earth, Thor encounters the astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman) and her researcher colleagues (Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings). There are some funny moments as Thor struggles to adapt to his now mortal human form on earth.
Thor is Shakespearian by way of director Kenneth Branaugh (Hamlet, Henry V, others) — which is to say it's Branaughian. He was a good choice for Thor's epic theatrical silliness, but it doesn't always work. Branaugh's visual palette is cosmic, with lots of cloudy galaxies and Hubbell erotica. And then there's lots of CGI gobbledygook. A panoply of armies clashing does nothing for me when I know they were born in a Mac in California.
Thor doesn't retrieve Mjolnir and become a superhero until near the end of the film. The moment is one of such high energy and orgiastic joy, one wonders why it couldn't have come much sooner. The plot contrivances up to then feel like shackles on the real entertainment. One longs for less struggle and more celebration.
The film closes with the promise "Thor will return in The Avengers." The cinematic superhero team-up holds immense potential. Please God, don't make us sit through more introductions.