The Cynical Optimist on why you’ve got to see Thor!

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Plot Synopsis: Directed by Kenneth Branagh, ”Thor” spans the Marvel Universe from earth to the mystical realm of Asgard. Odin’s son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) prepares to ascend to the throne of Asgard, but is interrupted when the Frost Giants attempt to retrieve an ancient relic.

Against Odin’s command, Thor confronts the leader of the Frost Giants, accompanied by his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), childhood friend Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano).

A battle ensues, destroying the fragile truce between the two races. For Thor’s arrogance and recklessness, Odin strips his son of his godly power and banishes him to the realm of Earth. Accompanied by his hammer Mjolnir — the source of his power — now protected by a spell to allow only those who are worthy to wield it.

Thoughts: As Marvel Studios moves forward with their Avengers Initiative, mainstream audiences are being introduced to more obscure superheros like Iron Man and Thor. It’s hard to call these guys obscure, though, being as they’ve been staples of the Marvel Universe for 50 years.

This isn’t Thor’s first foray into pop culture, mind you. Perhaps you’re familiar with Chris Columbus’ 1987 seminal classic ”Adventures in Babysitting”, where within eight-year-old Sara Anderson idolizes Marvel’s God of Thunder. In the film, she meets a hammer-wielding mechanic (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) who resembles Thor and offers him her replica winged helmet.

Still not ringing a bell? What about the 1988 made-for-television movie, ”The Incredible Hulk Returns”, in which Thor (Eric Allan Kramer) teams up with David Banner, played by Bill Bixby. OK, so I can’t blame you for not having seen this one – it’s pretty terrible, but I loved it as kid. I recall a particularly ridiculous scene where Thor (in full Norse get-up) arm wrestles a biker in a bar.

Thor isn’t your standard superhero. He isn’t a playboy billionaire or an American patriot. Nay, his abilities come not from titanium suits or super serums, nor radioactive spider-bites. Thor is a God from Asgard, one of the nine realms of our universe. He wields a mystical hammer which only he can lift – not even the Incredible Hulk can lift Mjolnir – few can match his strength, except for his wicked brother, Loki.

A mix of ”Masters of the Universe” and ”Lord of the Rings”, Thor’s mystical realm of Asgard is brought to life by director Kenneth Branagh, whose cinematic vision is less in line with the superhero genre and more with sweeping fantasy adventure. The film is filled with epic battles against Frost Giants and mighty beasts, and yet there is a lot of humor and sweetness to the story, as Thor learns humility and selflessness amongst the mortals of Earth.

If you love ”Thor”, then you will be delighted by the amount of care and respect given to the source material. Asgard, the Warriors Three, Lady Sif – almost every aspect of Thor’s mythology is presented here. Traveling to Jotunheim and confronting the Frost Giant leader Laufey was particularly exciting, with tons of hammer-slinging action and classic comic book imagery.

Of course, much like ”The Incredible Hulk” and ”Iron Man 2”, ”Thor” serves as a precursor for ”The Avengers” – and is as such the ultimate fan service for Marvel fans. I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s a bad-ass cameo by a certain Avengers team member and plenty of subtle references for fans of the Marvel super-team to salivate over.

I found myself leaning forward in my seat with clinched fists and a goofy grin plastered across my face the whole time, like a six-year-old kid – swinging my fists as if I were fighting Frost Giants and battling the forces of Loki.

The Bottom Line: You’ve got to see ”Thor”. It’s one of the most faithful, entertaining comic book movies yet. It effortlessly captures the magic and wonder of the comic book series and delivers with impressive effects, beautiful surrounds and a remarkable cast. Branagh has assembled a cast worthy of a Shakespearean stage play and tells a story of drama, romance, and good old-fashioned chivalry with a touch of humor and a whole lot of heart.

For those unfamiliar with the character, you needn’t worry – Thor and his mystical world are explained perfectly, and there is a very real human element to it, as Thor develops a relationship with mortal Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

It’s like ”Beauty and the Beast”, but instead of Linda Hamilton and Ron Pearlman it’s George Kirk and Padme Amidala. That’s a beautiful thing.

Final Thought: I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but be sure to stay until after the credits for a special scene that teases ”The Avengers”. If Marvel can pull this off, it will truly be legendary – it will become the new blueprint for how to build a successful franchise, let’s just hope Joss Whedon doesn’t drop the ball.

I wonder if that little girl from ”Adventures in Babysitting” will be seeing ”Thor” this weekend. I like to imagine that, even though she’s in her thirties, she’ll be rollerskating her way to the cinema with hammer in hand to worship at the altar of her idol – and I wonder if she’s single?

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