There’s absolutely no reason why any of us must see “Thor,” the latest Marvel Comics big screen adaptation.
The good news is that if you do see it, there’s no harm done.
This is a surprisingly effective (I’m tempted to call it smart) addition to the superhero canon, a moderate success for a most unlikely filmmaker: Kenneth Branagh.
The Irish-born Branagh, of course, is the theatrical wiz kid who burst upon the cinema scene with his terrific “Henry V” and who has periodically created and/or appeared in other Shakespearean films, among them "Much Ado About Nothing," “Othello” and an epic four-hour "Hamlet."
His non-Bard movies, on the other hand, have been flops. While Branagh has proven himself a valuable supporting player in a variety of worthwhile films (“Rabbit Proof Fence,” the Harry Potter franchise), his credibility as a filmmaker for years has been on the skids.
“Thor” has turned that around.
Let us note from the outset that Thor is one of the sillier characters in the Marvel Universe, a musclebound godlike being from another planet whose big hammer provides a variety of super skills (it helps him fly, serves as a guided missile and even returns to its owner boomerang-style).
In the comic books, which Branagh claims to have loved as a child in Northern Ireland, Thor wears one of those silly horned Viking helmets and peppers his conversations with phrases like “By Odin’s thunder!”
In short, Thor is ridiculous. Surprisingly, this movie isn’t.
There are several reasons for this. First, leading man Chris Hemsworth and Branagh make of Thor a bit of an egocentric boor who for his misadventures is banned by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), to live as a mortal on Earth.
In Thor’s absence his younger brother, Loki, makes a play for the throne, incapacitating their father Odin and sending to Earth a fire-breathing robot to ensure that Thor never returns to their home planet of Asgard.
Hemsworth has the requisite pecs and biceps but he also has a sense of humor, and it’s fun watching this vain prince reduced to a comic foil who, attempting to assert his regal will among the puny Earthlings (among them Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman), gets zapped with a Taser into cross-eyed senselessness.
But what initially grabs us about “Thor” is that in the early passages set on Asgard — in which we are introduced to the royal family and must digest a slew of convoluted back story about Odin’s long fight with the frost giants of a neighboring planet — Branagh and Hopkins treat the material as if it were actually written by Shakespeare.
This is a daring ploy, since on the printed page much of the dialogue and exposition probably seemed absurd.
But here’s Hopkins – encased in steel and his one good eye (the other is an empty socket covered by a metal patch) glaring out over an overflowing beard – delivering his dialogue with the stentorian approach of a veteran Shakespearean actor.
Which of course he is.
Stir into the mix the obvious echoes of “Lear” and “Hamlet” and you find yourself giving in to the lunacy. We want to laugh, but we don’t because Hopkins and Branagh transform trash into something that can almost pass for important.