Movie Review: Thor

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount Sunday, 08 May 2011

Movie Reviews

Summer 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the second-string superhero movie. Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh - Kenneth Branagh!!) is first off the blocks but Captain America and Green Lantern are ready to go and there's a rebooted 'X-Men' franchise just around the corner too. But movies based on any but the Big Three comic books characters - Batman, Superman, Spider-Man - can sometimes be a tough sell because very often few outside the comics cogniscenti have the vaguest clue who any of these people are. Second division superhero movies can either fly (Iron Man) or flatline (Daredevil) and there's rarely any guarantee of Box office gold just because a film is 'from the makers of Spider-Man...'

Thor was likely to be an especially tough nut to crack as he's not actually a superhero at all in any traditional sense. Re-envisioned as a comic book character by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the early 1960s, Thor's roots are buried deep in Norse mythology. Although Lee and Kirby used that mythology to fashion a new superhero (with Thor as the alter-ego for the crippled Donald Blake), Branagh, not unnaturally given his own Shakespearean background, has concentrated more on the mythological elements of the character - a healthy proportion of the movie is set on Asgaard, Thor's trans-dimensional off-world home. After a brief sequence on Earth we're pitched straight into the long battle between the Asgaard Gods and their bitter (in every sense) enemies the Frost Giants. Brrrr. Thor's mischievous half-brother Loki (Middleton chewing up any scenery left ungnawed by Sir Anthony Hopkins as the pompous Odin) has tricked the naive Thor into reigniting the battle and, for his sins, Thor is banished to Earth by his grumpy dad Odin. Here's where Thor plays the fish-out-of-water card as he meets up with a team of hokey scientists led by Jane Foster (Portman) and Thor, very quickly it has to be said, learns about life on Earth and sets about trying to reclaim his beloved magical hammer Mjolnir (which has also been cast down to earth in a ball of flame). Meanwhile Loki, who has managed to emote Odin to death, sets about making sure he can claim what he sees as his rightful place as the Big Boss of Asgaard by sending some other Asgaardians and a big robot-thing called the Destroyer (which shoots fire from its eyes!) down to Earth to finish off Thor. Oh, and Thor has time to take a fancy to Jane Foster too, just for good measure...

Loads going on, admittedly, and yet the film still somehow manages to feel a bit small-scale. The on-Earth action is all centered around a small, isolated New Mexico town - the wider world is utterly unaware of the coming of Thor - and whilst most of the action set pieces are well-realized (the battle with the Destroyer particularly), it's hard not to feel that the film's holding back a bit on telling an even bigger story with even higher stakes. As it is we're asked to concern ourselves with a mythological world cutting off its bridge to Earth and the power struggle between two mythical figures and with no real threat to the wider world. As a result Thor feels a bit low key (or should that be Loki??), an origin story in all but name and, as we know, very much the precursor to the currently-filming Avengers movie which will team up Thor with Iron Man, Captain America and a recast Hulk.

Branagh, clearly aware that Thor could easily lose itself in its own pomposity, lets the film breathe with some moments of real wit and humour to offset the cod Shakespearean of many of the Asgaard sequences. Hemsworth as Thor is real find, handling the twinkling moments of comedy as easily as he handles the drama and the action and whilst Middleton is a revelation as the arch, devious Loki there's not much Natalie Portman could realistically do with her wide-eyed role as Thor's potential human squeeze.

Thor is never less than entertaining, the pace rarely flags and it's all done with a style and gusto and a real feel for the material we might not have expected from Branagh. The story and the scale may be a little underpowered at times but this is a bold and confident start for a new and rather different superhero franchise. Oh, and you'll want to hang around until the end of the closing credits too...

Expected 6


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