Thor [2011]

Of all the folks in long underwear to be tapped for superhero films, Thor would seem to be the most problematic to properly pull off. (Hypothetical Hollywood conversation: "A guy in a tricked-out, easily merchandisable metal suit? Great! An Asgardian God of Thunder who says stuff like thee and thou? Um, is Moon Knight available?") Thankfully, the resulting film does its source material rather proud, via a committed cast and an approach that doesn't shy away from the over-the-top superheroics. When you're dealing with a flying guy wielding a huge hammer, gritty realism can be overrated, really. Blending elements from the celebrated comic arcs by Walter Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski, the story follows the headstrong Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) as he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after inadvertently starting a war with a planet of ticked-off Frost Giants. As his traitorous brother Loki (the terrific Tom Hiddleston) schemes in the wings, Thor must redeem himself and save the universe, with the aid of a beautiful scientist (Natalie Portman). Although director Kenneth Branagh certainly doesn't skimp on the in-jokes and fan-pleasing continuity references (be prepared to stick around after the credits, Marvel fans), his film distinguishes itself by adopting a larger-than-life cosmic Shakespearean air that sets itself apart from both the cerebral, grounded style made fashionable by The Dark Knight and the loose-limbed Rat Packish vibe of the Iron Man series. Glorying in the absolute unreality of its premise, Branagh's film is a swooping, Jack Kirby-inspired saga that brings the big-budget grins on a consistent basis, as well as tying in with the superhero battle royale The Avengers. --Andrew Wright

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