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by on May 5, 2011
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As comic-book movies go, “Thor” isn’t the best, but neither is it the worst.

That might sound like a backhanded compliment (and it probably is), but this film is a solid case of taking a step forward, then a step back.

The Norse God of Thunder is on the cusp of becoming king of the Asgardians, but just before he takes the throne, he gets into a row with the Frost Giants, with whom Asgard has a fragile peace. His fight with them threatens to restart a brutal war, which displeases Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Odin deems his son unworthy, strips him of his powers and casts him into Midgard — known to you and me as Earth. As a reminder of his unworthiness, he casts Thor’s famed hammer to Earth as well, which of course can only be lifted by those worthy, and leaving Odin’s other son, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to take the throne.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is studying atmospheric phenomena in the desert when she literally runs into the outcast Thor.

The film is chiefly about Thor’s fall, then subsequent redemption that proves himself worthy of his power. Neither of these notions is handled as well as they could be; we get a scant scene of him ruining the fragile peace between his people and the Frost Giants that they’ve maintained for years.

Later, we then get a couple of scenes where Thor romps around on Earth in a flannel shirt, flashing his smile to a smitten Jane and trying to retrieve his hammer as Loki plots to permanently take the throne from his father, who’s about to enter Odinsleep, an indefinite period of dormancy.

Hemsworth plays Thor about as well as anyone could, offering a hearty smile, a boisterous, loud voice and copious musculature. But the character is a bit underwritten, and editing and story shortcomings lead to an incomplete view of the character, especially to the layperson.

Hiddleston, too, is strong as Loki, similarly underwritten. The breakout character for me, though, was Heimdall (Idris Elba), the gatekeeper of the mythic Bifrost Bridge, which links worlds and allows Thor and the other Gods the ability to travel instantaneously between them. For all the fanboy angst at Marvel and director Kenneth Branagh casting a black man in the role (don’t call the British Elba “African American,” OK?), he sure did end up being a terrific character.

Some of the blame for the film’s faults have to go to Branagh. The action sequences aren’t as exciting as they could have been, and the film has this quasi-epic kind of feel when it should have felt completely epic.

Still, it is pretty awesome to see Thor on the big screen in battle, spinning Mjolnir like a propeller, flying and, in one sequence, simply placing Mjolnir on an enemy to keep him from escaping. Also fanboy geeky fun is the return of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and another familiar face in the now-signature post-credits scene.

We also get the CliffsNotes version of the Odin/Thor/Loki relationship. We get a scant single scene with them as children, and while Odin seems to slightly favor Thor, we see nothing of Loki’s jealousy or his reputation as a prankster (he is the God of Mischief, after all). In fact, Loki seems a rather serious chap until it’s time for the film’s action to move forward.

The script could have used a bit more work. The film seems a bit focused too much on tying “Thor” into “The Avengers,” which on the surface I don’t have a problem with. (I’m one of those who didn’t think it hurt “Iron Man 2” one bit.) But here, we get lost shuttling between Earth and Asgard. Thor’s mythology is thick and rife with royal intrigue, and short-shrifting it for the sake of the sequel and/or a shorter runtime leads to some confusion and lack of proper thematic build.

“Thor” is also mired again by substandard (read: crappy) post-production 3D, which works against the film’s best sequence when Thor, Loki and the Warriors Three battle the Frost Giants. Here’s a clue to filmmakers and studios wanting to add post-production 3D to their films: If you’re filtering your film in dark blue, the 3D only makes an already-dark image darker; for audiences, it makes the movie difficult to watch. Let’s try to avoid that from now on, shall we?

But overall, “Thor” is an enjoyable, fun romp. Some of the references are fun (the film overlaps with the post-credits coda of “Iron Man 2,” which we learn is an exact scene from “Thor”), legendary Marvel writer Stan Lee gets perhaps his best cameo yet and with a nice mix of humor, action and romance, “Thor” is worthwhile summer entertainment.

Too bad it’s not as epic as it could have been.