Monday, 9 May 2011

Thor (2011)

Hammer of the gods indeed.

Image: Paramount Pictures


Thor seemed like one of the least likely Marvel comics to succeed as a film. The studio were clearly committed to the character, announcing him as part of the upcoming Avengers. But a movie about a Norse god having to get by on Earth that would have to fit into the greater Marvel framework? Directed by Kenneth Branagh? The jury was out.

After disobeying his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and leading an invasion into enemy territory, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his power and unceremoniously hurled to Earth. There he crashes into Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist who wants to know where he came from. As Thor gets used to his new surroundings, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has plans for Asgard...

It’s a pleasure to report that Thor is one of the most enjoyable comic book movies in a long while and a definite return to form for Marvel after the disappointing Iron Man 2. The emphasis here seems to be on making it big and making it fun. The production design is bright and bold, while the film is filled with plenty of nicely-judged comic moments that allow Hemsworth (Kirk’s dad from Star Trek) and Portman to show their lighter sides. Branagh shows that he has a deft hand with the funny stuff, but what is surprising is that he also delivers during the action sequences. The battles between the Asgardians and the Ice Giants are suitably impressive, while Thor’s assault on a SHIELD compound is a bruising highlight.

The Asgard sequences were probably where the film was most likely to flounder, but Branagh sensibly goes for broke, and comes out smiling. We’re given flamboyantly dressed heroes, the glittering golden set dressing, the weapons vault that apparently has all the secret weapons on full display, not to mention the Bifröst, or “Rainbow Bridge”. It’s all very silly, but the actors’ performances match their surroundings. 

Hemsworth was perhaps the biggest gamble of all the summer comic book movies as the only unknown, but he gives a funny and affecting performance that nicely captures not only the grand theatricality of the material but the quieter moments between Thor and Jane. Portman gives a grounded performance that shows a warmth that we haven’t seen for a while, and she sparks nicely off Hemsworth as well as Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard, who play her colleagues. Up in Asgard, Hiddleston manages to distinguish Loki from other recent comic book villains; all wounded pride and envy rather than maniacal cackling. Hopkins gives Odin all the Sir Anthony Hopkins he’s got while actors like Idris Elba (The Wire) and Ray Stevenson (Rome) give similarly muscular performances.

It’s not Marvel’s best yet, and is certainly not as memorable as Iron Man. Thor is a bit long, and there’s probably not a lot about it that you’ll remember after leaving the cinema, but it’s a tremendously enjoyable movie. Marvel also thankfully decided to shoehorn less Avengers stuff in than they did with Iron Man 2, although Clark Gregg’s Coulson shows up, as does a certain Avenger (in a very brief and frankly pointless cameo). Hemsworth and Branagh have succeeded on bringing the character to life. 

Big, funny, and very entertaining, Thor’s not quite Iron Man but it has set the benchmark for this summer’s comic book movies.

4/5

JH

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