The summer movie season began with Marvel Studios'"Thor," an adaptation of their comic based on Norse mythology.
The impetuous son of Odin, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is full of bluster and arrogance. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to groom Thor to be king of Asgard, but standing in the way is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin's other son. Loki is the opposite of Thor: quiet and calculating. And he's very jealous of Thor.
The story centers on the enmity between Asgard and Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants, a race the Asgardians battled long ago. They held the power of the Casket of Ancient Winters, which caused an ice age on earth, but Odin won the war and took the Casket from the Frost Giants. This made for a fragile peace between the two races.
In the movie, the Frost Giants send a group to retake the Casket, but they are repelled by the Destroyer, a giant robot that uses fire as a weapon.
The invasion causes Thor to rally his Warrior Three (Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas and Tadanobu Asano), the Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Loki to go to Jotunheim to end the aggression.
The fight sets in motion a chain of events, which include a banishment to Earth, the loss of a magic hammer, and the involvement of SHIELD (a government agency in the Marvel Universe that works in espionage and law enforcement, specifically targeting superheroes).
"Thor" is an above-average comic book movie. It doesn't have a deeper message as "The Dark Knight Returns," and it is not as true to its comic-bookback story as "Iron Man" was.
Yet it does entertain and provide a nice origin to an important character of the Marvel Universe– and a linchpin for the upcoming "The Avengers" movie.
Hemsworth is very good as Thor, and Hopkins dials back his characterization of Odin. But the most interesting person in Asgard is Hiddleston. His Loki is nuanced, and his sinister side is played very low key. Loki is the character that keeps us guessing and engaged.
The number of commendable performances must be credited to Kenneth Branagh, the director.Branagh's work in adapting Shakespeare to film serves him well here.
He knows how to get the needed performances out of his cast, and he does not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the special effects. His skills boost the movie to Shakespearean levels.
Alas, the 3-D here is only a method of reaching into my pocket and getting another three dollars. If you can see "Thor" without it, do.
A final word: Stay until the end of the credits. Marvel always includes an important scene for their next movie. In this case, it's for "The Avengers."
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth: Thor; Natalie Portman: Jane Foster; Kat Dennings: Darcy Lewis; Tom Hiddleston: Loki; Ray Stevenson: Volstagg; Tadanobu Asano: Hogun; Josh Dallas: Fandral; Jaimie Alexander: Lady Sif; Stellan Skargard: Erik Selvig; Clark Gregg: Agent Coulson.