This year’s superhero season has kicked off with an almighty punch as Marvel’s Thor comes to the big screen. When I first heard that Kenneth Branagh was taking the role as director, I wasn’t sure what to think. A man renown for his leanings towards the more highbrow productions, I was interested in how Branagh’s Shakespearean background would bring Thor and the Norse gods to life. It could’ve gone bad like Ang Lee’s Hulk or, as is the case, Branagh could’ve brought those Shakespearean themes such as deception, family betrayal and character driven drama.
The epic adventure “Thor” spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the mystical realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. As a result, Thor is banished to Earth, where he is forced to live among humans. When the most dangerous villain of his world sends its darkest forces to invade Earth, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the ways first. Most of the Earth based scenes aren’t anywhere near as interesting as those that take place on Asgard and Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants. Natalie Portman is adequate as Jane Foster (Thor’s love interest) and Stellan Skarsgard her research scientist colleague Erik Selvig. They are however easily outdone by Kat Dennings who plays their assistant, Darcy Lewis. A gutsy, cool and hip chick, Dennings does comic relief really well. The only other highlights is seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson from Iron Man and Iron Man 2 and an uncredited cameo by Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye. There are also a few fun moments with Thor and his interactions on Earth.
The post production 3D conversion adds nothing to the overall feel of the movie, but as least it doesn’t impact it badly, like it did with Clash of the Titans.
The real magic lies in Asgard, as Thor and Loki vie for the attention of their father Odin, King of the Asgardians. Chris Hemsworth playing the titular Thor to good affect as the good natured, but quick to temper god, who is ruled by his emotions. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is deceitful, easily manipulating those around him. Loki constantly keeps the audience guessing where his allegiances lie. On top of these two solidly good performances is Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of Odin who steals every scene he is in. The film is more about the relationship of the father and two sons and as Hopkins describes “It’s a superhero movie, but with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in”.
Also of note is Idris Elba as Heimdall, the all-seeing, all-hearing Asgardian sentry of the Bifrost bridge. He has a gravitas about him almost as good as Anthony Hopkins. Elba’s casting prompted a a planned boycott by the Council of Conservative Citizens and a debate amongst comic book fans, some insisting it was wrong for a black man to play a Nordic god. In response Elba called the debate, “ridiculous” and rightly so, he was simply brilliant.
Aside from a couple of dodgy scenes (Thor against the Destroyer on Earth), the special effects are top notch. Asgard and the Bifrost look stunning, as do the Frost Giants and Jotunheim. Branagh grounds the idea of Norse gods into the Marvel film universe with a sense of realism – yes despite it being a story about gods – and tying magic and science together as one and the same adds to this.
Thor is an extremely fun movie to watch and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a movie that children will like as well as adults and comic book fans alike. With Captain America: The First Avenger set for release this summer and The Avengers movie next year, Thor successfully expands the Marvel film universe.