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A Mediocre Superhero

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Superhero Summer, 2011 edition, officially kicks off with the first big-screen appearance of Marvel Comicsí Thor, the Norse god of thunder re-mythologized for the Marvel Universe as a super-powered, trans-dimensional, godlike alien.

Despite Thorís second-tier status in the Marvel Universe, the powers that be at Marvel Comics (pre-Disney buyout) decided Thor and Captain America merited standalone, feature-length films of their own before moving on to next summerís superhero team-up, The Avengers. Less a standalone film than an appetizer for The Avengers, Thor feels small for a superhero film, especially in the earth-bound scenes.

Thor briefly opens with a de-powered Thor (Chris Hemsworth), awakening in the New Mexico desert, before jumping into a half-hour flashback set in Asgard, the celestial, trans-dimensional home of the Norse-mythology-inspired super-powered aliens. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thorís brother and rival, convinces Thor that the Frost Giants, ancient Asgardian enemies, pose an immediate threat after several Frost Giants attempt to breach Asgardís weapons vault.

Thor (a literal rock star god) enters Jotunheim with the Warriors Three, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Thorís lifelong friend and warrior, Sif (Jamie Alexander), through the BifrŲst (Rainbow) Bridge that connects the nine realms. In response, Thorís father and Asgardís ruler, Odin All-Father (Anthony Hopkins), banishes Thor and Thorís Excalibur-like, magic-empowered hammer to Midgard (a.k.a. Earth).

Post-flashback, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist and the obligatory non-Asgardian love interest, almost runs a dazed Thor over while Jane, her assistant/part-time comic relief, Darcy (Kat Dennings), and Professor Andrews (Stellan SkarsgŚrd) are out late at night investigating an odd astronomical occurrence. What they donít realize is that theyíve just witnessed Thorís banishment from Asgard. The stranger identifies himself as Thor (no last name), but they naturally assume heís mentally ill (an idea lifted in the Ultimate Comicsí iteration of Thor).

Led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), SHIELD, the super-secret, transnational, espionage agency, descends on the small New Mexico town to investigate the strange, atmospheric phenomenon that accompanied Thorís exile to Midgard. SHIELD also functions to connect Thor to Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger (due in July), and The Avengers, part of Marvelís grand plan to create a shared superhero universe, minus Spider-Man and the X-Men, of course (rights to those characters are held by Sony and 20th Century Fox, respectively).

Coulson and his agents subdue Thor with relative ease. Heís still bodybuilder strong, but heís no match for a squad of highly trained SHIELD agents. Coulson takes Thor to a mobile SHIELD facility for interrogation and a complimentary physical.

The Asgardian and Earth-bound story lines run fitfully in parallel before converging, first on Earth, then on Asgard. The ending unsurprisingly sets the stage for The Avengers film that will team up Thor with Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and many, many other characters plucked from the Marvel Comicsí universe.

Thor introduces Clint Barton/Hawkeye, adding the now obligatory post-credits scene hinting at future plot elements, and making Thor and his convoluted back story manageable for regular moviegoers and semi-exciting for longtime comic fans eager to see four plus decades of Thor stories condensed into a two-hour film.

As a standalone film, however, Thor falls short, slipping into mediocrity all too frequently. The mix of campy humor, underdeveloped romance, and CG-heavy action scenes, and the climactic battle feel like director Kenneth ďDutch AngleĒ Branagh re-watched Peter Jacksonís adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkienís The Lord of the Rings trilogy one too many times. He pulls Thor in too many directions simultaneously, ultimately resulting in incoherent, muddled mediocrity.

The decision to set Thorís Earth-bound scenes exclusively in and around a dusty, nondescript town, a town so small it has exactly one central street and a few outlying buildings is, at best, a dubious one. The New Mexico town meant as an intentionally contrast with Asgardís soaring, gleaming spires and cavernous halls (created via sound stages and borderline dull, non-awe-inspiring CG extensions). The contrast also serves to keep Thorís budget from straining Marvelís finances (Thor was greenlit pre-Disney buyout).

Regardless of the purpose behind the New Mexico setting, however, the Earth-bound scenes feel too small and unimportant for a superhero film because, sadly, they are, like so much else in Thor.