Thor  (Rated PG-13)  • Three Stars

05-25-11-thor.jpgDirector Kenneth Branagh reportedly conceptu-alized Thor (114 minutes) as a comic book twist on Shakespeare’s Henry V, which makes sense, because if it’s not Shakespearean in some way, Branagh can’t be bothered. Much like most of Shakespeare (and most comic books), the women in Thor take a secondary role and/or stand around ineffectually while dudes take care of business. Wait a min-ute … there are tons of proactive women in Shakespeare and in comic books, too! I guess Kenneth Branagh is a sex-ist. Too bad.

The film opens at what turns out to be narrative halfway point by introducing some of the main players before laying out the backstory. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is a nurse in the original comic, ends up as an astrophysicist here. While it is nice to showcase a talented female astrophysicist, it does tend to take away from your positive message when said talented female astrophysicist isn’t doing much science. It’s like casting Mila Kunis as the tough leather babe in Max Payne … you can say she’s tough, but that doesn’t make me believe she is tough. Her assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) isn’t much help. She is a great chick sidekick, she handles a Taser, and she gets most of the funny lines, but she doesn’t do much to advance women in the sciences.

Luckily for the ladies, Jane’s mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (conveniently familiar with both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Norse mythology) is there to tell the womenfolk what to do when their stereotypically bad driving, aggravated by their womanly bickering, causes them to run over the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). After this introduction to the mortal characters, the movie reverses back to tell the story of how Thor ended up in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Odin the Allfather, King of Asgard (Anthony Hopkins) is fighting the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, led by Laufey (Colm Feore). Odin wins the war and claims the source of their magically delicious frost powers, the Casket of Ancient Winters. Sometime between then and now, Odin had a couple of anklebiters with Frigga (Rene Russo). Just like Cain and Abel, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) don’t always get along. Their relationship only gets more complex as Odin decides to decree Thor as his heir. Just as he is about to make that official, a couple of the extras from Avatar...whoops, a couple of Frost Giants break into Asgard and try to steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Since the fatal character flaw of Thor is arrogance, he grabs his buddies and arrogantly runs to Jotunheim and lays down some wrath all over the Frost Giants. For those of you keeping track, his bud-dies are the Warriors Three plus One Lady include Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) plus Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander). Or, as a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents prefer, Robin Hood, Jackie Chan, and Xena on their way to the Renaissance Faire.

Odin steps in just in time to save his son from the evildoers only to get supergrumpy and ground him (literally). He evidently isn’t as mad as he appears, since he throws Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, down to Earth with him. In response, the local folk, apparently grungy drunks who wear tank tops and baseball caps that look very much like Stan Lee, throw a simultaneous barbecue and tractor pull.

The rest of the movie is a mix of S.H.I.E.L.D., fighting, and completely unbelievable romance, followed by an interest-ing after-credits scene fea-turing … wait for it … Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)!!

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