Wednesday, 4 May 2011


2011. Dir: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston and Stellan Skarsgaard. ●●●●○

The dominance of Marvel comics over the summer schedules for 2011 has got off to a good start with the fun and gorgeously designed Thor. Hopefully for them they can keep the ball in the air with the rest of the slate which now has a lot to live up to.

The film opens with a piece of Lord of the Rings style backstory with Sir Anthony Hopkins booming out the relationship between the Norse mythology, our Godlike heroes of the film and the villainous Frost Giants. It's a tale of bloody combat with the Frost Giants virtually totally annihilated and Odin's (the king of the Gods and father to Thor) appetite for war spent. So far so medieval monarchy, you could transplant Odin for any European king in the dark ages, any anti-hero from Jacobean theatrical tradition and his motivations would be a perfect fit, suddenly the decision to hire Kenneth Branagh as director makes perfect sense.

Flash forward many centuries (the Gods appear to age slower than men, although this leaves a small plot hole where a very young Thor would not have made an impact enough to be written about by ancient Scandinavian cultures) where Thor, all smirking self-confidence and irritatingly impatient, is about to attend his coronation. A small team of Frost Giants break into the Asgardian vaults so Thor mounts a war party to seek revenge for this infringement. For this thoughtless lack of diplomacy Odin banishes his firstborn to Earth with his mighty hammer and the hope that he'll learn some humility and the concept of self-sacrifice.

The film then breaks into two parallel storylines. In one, a delightful New Mexico set comedy, Thor is getting to grips with life on Earth and falling for Astro-physicist Natalie Portman, whilst in the other Odin's other son, Loki, is plotting and schemeing his way onto the throne of Asgard.

Chris Hemsworth gives a solid central performance, cocky and unlikeable in the first act, he shows great comic timing in his interactions with the mortals and even when he's given awful dialogue (there are some strange phrases that seem neither Asgardian in tone or like someone trying to fit in) he commits so much it works. When he goes into a pet shop it's a great comic scene that sells the character and his relationship with the world around him. Plus he is extraordinarily cut. Portman doesn't have much to do, sure she comes across much better than most Marvel heroines, clearly able to hold her own intellectually with the rest of the characters and doesn't have a scene where she needs to be rescued, however she mainly spouts unlikely scientific statements and builds up a desire for Thor. The other earthbound cast are fine, Stellan Skarsgaard and Kat Dennings as Portman's colleagues are great value, with the former particularly struggling to keep a straight face.

There are so many characters in Asgard few of them get enough of an opportunity to build character, only Tom Hiddleston's Loki with his multiple Machiavellian schemes (it's truly difficult to keep track on what he's actually doing) displays any conflicting emotion and whilst he did the job well here I think there's more and better work coming from the young Brit. Idris Elba, as gatekeeper Heimdall, was wasted in a role that promised much but I suspect was left partly on the cutting room floor. On that note at 114 minutes, including a pointless post credits extra scene with Samuel L. Jackson; just pointing the way to The Avengers heavyhanded given the few chucklesome mentions of other characters which had slipped in the script ("Is that Stark technology?", "I have a colleague working on Gamma Radiation" etc.), the time flew by and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a significant number of deleted scenes once the DVD roles around.

Branagh shows a sure hand with the comic and Asgard formal scenes, clearly using all his experience from adapting Shakespeare, and he is surprisingly adept with the action set-pieces I found I knew exactly what was going on during them, however there is a slight issue with the character, if you know Thor cannot be killed as he is a God then the tension is drained. Only the final battle in Asgard surprised me in it's conclusion, and it's clearly open for a sequel I just hope that possibility isn't just dusted over in The Avengers.

My major complaint about Thor is the totally unnecessary 3D filming. Not only does very little happen that justifies the additional expense, but the murkiness of watching through glasses totally ruins the spectacular design of Asgard. I can honestly say that watching the trailer on my cheap laptop was a superior experience because of the bright and crisp colours that watching the print at the cinema. Alexandra Byrne's costumes and Bo Welch's production design deserve so much more than showing the film in 3D.

Overall I'd say Thor is well worth the trip to the cinema. Sure it's no X2 but it's a fun comic book adaptation with some fine performances that will keep you entertained throughout. That said do your best to watch in 2D.

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