Dir. by Kenneth Branagh - 1 hr. 55 min.
Yep, another comic book movie. I can understand if people are tired of that in general (geeks, your backlash is juuuuust about ready to be served, hope you've enjoyed your appetizer), but you only get to complain when the movies in question are not very good. And "Thor" is pretty good. It's another in a string of movies that are leading up to the sure-fire blockbuster "Avengers" movie due in 2012, right before the Mayan apocalyspe takes us all (along with the "Iron Man" movies and the forthcoming "Captain America"). Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) is exactly who you might think he is - Odin's son, the God of Thunder, taking residence in Asgard. He's not exactly a super-hero like you'd expect - his story is fundamentally different than Iron Man's, for instance.
Instead of being sworn to protect humanity, Thor's a hot-headed prince who is clearly not ready to take over his father's throne. There's a minor invasion into Asgard by the frost giants, and Thor wants a piece of flesh in retribution. He won't be deterred, but it leads to his exile on Earth. This has the effect of splitting the movie into two; there's the Asgardian material (which is about political intrigue and his scheming brother, Loki), and the fish-out-of-water material set on Earth.
Both parts of the movie are wound together, and there's not much confusion, either. Visually, this movie's a stunner. Asgard is beautiful, gleaming, and grand. The Earth scenes are set in the southwest, as stark as Asgard is ornate. Bridging the two is space, portrayed in swirling nebulae and zooming starscapes. Given that the source material is visual in nature, it's not a surprise that it should be a strong suit of the movie, but it's worth noting that the film didn't fall short here.
One of the things that good comic book movies do that they didn't used to do (which is why they're better now than they had previously been) is that they're willing to find good actors to ground the more fantastic elements of the characters and stories. In Asgard, Thor plays off of Anthony Hopkins (Odin), and on Earth, he's surrounded by Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Kat Cummings. Hopkins rages very well, and it's so much fun watching Natalie Portman fall awkwardly for Thor. In general, the Earth stuff is so much fun, and so funny. The humor is natural and easy (in the way that Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow's dialogue feels natural between them), and it's a relief to have something that could have all the fun strangled out of it completely go the other way with it.
To put it in the "Avengers" hierarchy, "Thor" isn't as good as the first "Iron Man," but is better than "Iron Man 2." It's also far better than either Hulk movie. It's a beautiful spectacle, with a good story and a good balance between levity and action. If you haven't seen any of those movies, "Thor" is a reasonable jumping on point - there are passing references to the related movies, but whether or not you get them doesn't affect the story in any meaningful way. This is a really good popcorn movie, and probably should be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
4 / 5 - Theatre