Arm and Hammer: Will Newcomer Hemsworth, Star of Summer’s First Big Movie, “Thor,” Keep Marvel on Top?


Chris Hemsworth hammers away as the title character in "Thor," summer's first big movie. Thor is the God of Thunder and wields an enormous hammer that also floats as his weapon of choice. l Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

The last time we saw Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, his body was being blown up into a billion pieces after an emotional moment of sacrifice in order to save his son’s life in JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek.” Somewhere in the galaxies above, in that brisk sci-fi reboot, we caught a glimpse of the actor in an all-too brief, yet still incredibly tense, performance in an American film. Now, he’s back with a vengeance. But this time, he’s a demigod walking around on Earth’s soil.

Hemsworth, 27, is the star of Marvel Studios’ “Thor,” the epic new Kenneth Branagh picture hitting theatres on May 6. The film, which also stars Oscar-winners Natalie Portman (who is overexposing herself in far too many films this year) and Sir Anthony Hopkins, is this year’s first big summer movie. Anchored by a rumored $150 million budget and strong early reviews, “Thor” should make a big splash at the box office this weekend.

The film preludes three other upcoming superhero movies this summer: “X-Men: First Class,” “The Green Lantern”, and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” all of which open during a five week span between June 5 and July 22. Unlike “Thor”, they all star actors who have already made a name for themselves: James McAvoy, Ryan Reynolds, and Chris Evans, respectively. But are superhero movies as good as they used to be?

Obviously, films like “Watchmen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” are not as good as “Spider-Man 2” or “The Dark Knight.” But special effects have come so far during this decade; there is a significant visual difference between early 2000’s films and 2011 films. For example, the visual effects of “The Incredible Hulk,” 2008’s superhero remake starring Edward Norton as the angry green man, far surpassed and improved upon the CGI in “Hulk,” the 2003 superhero movie with Eric Bana based on the same character. Movie critics will whine about the story arc, the unexceptional acting, the loud noises and the beautifying of the lead actors, but is that really what the directors and producers are trying to achieve? They are giving the audience exactly what they want: a popcorn movie, full of good guys, bad guys, love, violence, and extraordinary and unrealistic capabilities and circumstances. That’s why the superhero movie has been around for so long- because people want to escape into something that reels in their imagination and their senses, not because they want to put together a puzzle.

So when “Thor” comes out this weekend, expect it to rake in the big bucks. It has been advertised relentlessly, has (besides Hemsworth) popular and recognizable actors to help its star power, and is a must-see for anybody excited for the ultimate Avengers movie in 2012, which will feature the character of Thor along with Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

So go check out “Thor” if that’s your kind of movie—if not, you can always wait for anticipated dramas like “Tree of Life”, Terrence Malick’s mysterious chronicling of fatherhood during the 20th Century. Or, you can opt for comedic fare, like “The Hangover: Part 2,” arriving in theatres later this month. Or, if you like action but “Thor” just looks dumb to you, then “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is where you need to be in two weeks. The franchise welcomes back Johnny Depp for a fourth time as Captain Jack Sparrow, who returns for more woozy swashbuckling alongside Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane.

Or, you could go see “Something Borrowed” instead of “Thor,” Kate Hudson’s new romantic comedy. My advice? Only see it if your friends pay. It’s almost a horror film, it’s that terrifying.