Review by Rob Carnevale
KENNETH Branagh has defied early scepticism to deliver a hugely enjoyable superhero blockbuster in Marvel’s Thor.
By no means perfect, and certainly inferior to Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man (another Marvel adaptation), his film nevertheless combines the spectacular with the more personal, complete with a knowing sense of humour.
It’s an achievement made all the more remarkable by virtue of the fact that Thor would have been one of the easier comic book franchises to get wrong, given that it straddles two worlds and focuses on supreme beings rather than the more commonly associated everyman hero who suddenly gains special powers.
But Branagh has taken such challenges in his stride to deliver the type of film that offers enjoyment on many levels – not just to comic book aficionados – while keeping its eye on the wider Marvel universe and the need to set things in motion for the forthcoming Avengers movie.
It is, essentially, an origins tale that sees Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) making the transition from powerful but arrogant warrior son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the fantastical realm of Asgard, to a more humble and thoughtful leader.
He does this after being banished to Earth for disobeying his father, and thereby paving the way for his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to put into play his own plan for universal domination.
En route, there’s an obligatory romance with a gutsy scientist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as well as a connection to SHIELD, the government organisation responsible for bringing the various superheroes together for what will become The Avengers.
Branagh’s master-stroke in all this is his decision not to take things too seriously, thereby removing one of the earliest concerns surrounding his appointment as director.
Rather, the film contains a very smart sense of humour – one that’s not afraid to tip its hat towards some of its own absurdities without ever descending into self-parody.
Hence, there’s plenty of mirth to be found in watching the larger-than-life Hemsworth come to terms with his loss of power amid the mortals of Earth.
Fun, too, are the savvy nods to other characters, whether it’s a glib remark at the expense of Iron Man’s Tony Stark, or an appearance from another forthcoming Marvel character (played by Jeremy Renner) that’s sure to set some pulses racing.
Such moments enable Branagh to indulge some of his more dramatic inclinations and carry the film itself through some of the less interesting other-worldly elements (when special effects and CGI backdrops necessarily take over).
On the former point, his decision to cast such a heavyweight cast also pays dividends, with Hopkins and Hiddleston, in particular, clearly relishing the opportunity to tackle the weightier elements of the story, such as dynastic turmoil, sibling rivalry, betrayal and the cost of war.
But Hemsworth does well, too, holding his own during some of the more ‘thespian’ moments, while also demonstrating the physicality to make Thor’s higher powers appear convincing, as well as a nice line in self-deprecating humour during his scenes with Portman.
Hiddleston, for his part, makes Loki a more rounded and complex villain and a more intelligent adversary (one who, dare we say, is even able to appear sympathetic at times), while the likes of Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings and Clark Gregg also get their moments to shine under Branagh’s wing.
If there are criticisms, they mostly stem from the limitations imposed by the Marvel/superhero format – such as the aforementioned origins format or the bog-standard final scene smack-down involving two super-powers. There’s even a post-credits teaser that’s just about worth hanging around for.
The mix of worlds, too, is sometimes unconvincing… with the CGI enhanced realm of Asgard proving much less interesting than the more flesh and blood environment of Earth.
But as an introduction to one of Marvel’s more complex characters and a precursor to The Avengers, this does just fine, while simultaneously kick-starting another summer blockbuster season in suitably spectacular and crowd-pleasing style.
Running time: 130mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: September 26, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Chris Hemsworth interview
- Kenneth Branagh interview
- Tom Hiddleston interview
- Thor - Photo Gallery 2
- Thor - UK Press Conference Photos
- Thor - First-look photos
- Thor - Character Posters