Ye gods: Thor

Tom Hiddleston is the best reason to watch Thor. Slight of built and with dark hair slicked back like an otter’s, the Norse god of mischief rarely raises his voice; he’s so self-possessed that he doesn’t need to. You understand why he carries a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder: with a ponderous walrus like Odin as a stepfather (Anthony Hopkins), any twentysomething might wonder whether another god wanted to fuck me over.

The rest of Thor boasts the same rather shoddy CGI values of a would-be franchise biding its time until the grosses are released. Since Kenneth Branagh was not a particularly distinguished director when he was supposedly re-imagining Shakespeare and Hitchcock for American audiences, his “stamp” is non-existent; Odin himself could have directed it from Asgard. Speaking of which, with an almost two hundred million dollar budget I’d have thought Branagh and his production team could design an empyrean that didn’t look like a combination of Narnia and the sets from The Wiz. Also, apparently Norse gods were a more racially integrated bunch than historians have thought: Thor’s crew counts a brunette and an Asian as members, and the Gatekeeper of Asgard is a Carl Weathers type with a glower and manner etched in the Bronx. But neither training nor manner can wither Natalie Portman, who gives one of her worst performances ever and looks smashing while doing so. When she’s supposed to look like she’s having fun, her jaw clenches and eyes go mad like a hyperactive kid on Ritalin; when asked to show Thor (Chris Hemsworth) she’s got the hots for him, she chews the insides of her mouth.

As for Hemsworth, he’s sweet in a lunkheaded way and wears blond bangs like a pro; he’s a believable oaf. But Thor was never one of my favorite Marvel superheroes: his proto-Schwarzeneggar schtick of breaking stuff and acting clumsy around mortals got tiresome, especially since wit and him were only passing acquaintances anyway. That’s why the final confrontation between him and Loki is a hoot: when the nimble Hiddleston, clad in emerald green and brandishing a staff he stole from Narnia’s White Witch, loses it doesn’t seem fair.

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