The final pieces of Marvel’s master plan are falling into place. Developing their key characters one film at a time and sowing the seeds of hype with post-credit teases, Marvel have prepared for 'The Avengers' with military precision. Next up is Thor – lesser known, but no less entertaining.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a prince of the mystical realm of Asgard. He is vain and impetuous, and his actions cause King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to banish him to Earth to learn the meaning of humility. His jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), next in line to the throne, starts causing trouble in Asgard, and Thor must find a way back before it is too late.
This was always going to be the tricky one. The protagonist is a god, and his story split between Earth and a supernatural realm. 'Thor' avoids the 'Clash Of The Titans' approach of making everything out of light and clouds, instead taking the graphic novels at face value, recreating the source material in all its straight-faced silliness.
There are impractically tall gleaming golden towers, portals to different realms and a bridge made out of rainbows – Asgard may not be realistic but it is beautifully realised. Add to this the warriors of different powers, all clad in armour and capes - and you have more than enough camp epic-ness to rival 'The Lord Of The Rings'.
Despite all its pomp, 'Thor' doesn’t really feel like a traditional superhero film. There is no discovery process, no trial and error montage. Most of the time Thor doesn’t even have powers. The point of his character is that he is the opposite of the traditional superhero. Thor begins with god-status, but he must learn what it is to be a man.
'Thor' is a Shakespearean tale at heart, with themes of power struggle, sibling rivalry and lessons in morality – making Kenneth Branagh an appropriate choice for director. He tells a very human story about gods, striking a balance between the film’s two settings: epic melodrama for the lords of Asgard and endearing naivety for the mortals of Earth.
Thor’s adjustment to life on Earth presents huge potential for comedy. Infrequent slapstick is used to great effect, but the main highlight is the fish-out-of-water humour, which is hilarious. Handled with restraint, the comedy is never embarrassing. It is perfect way to frame Thor’s development, which is where the film shines.
Chris Hemsworth makes a fantastic Thor. He starts off with a confident swagger, a booming voice, and a cocky smile that shows he’s in control. As the movie progresses and he finds humility, he tones it down appropriately. Hemsworth’s performance is natural and convincing, genuinely coming across as an arrogant god learning a lesson.
The film’s strength in character is let down by the action. There’s not enough of it, Thor’s hammer is underused, and the set pieces are less epic than you would expect from a god of thunder. There are instances of jaw-dropping spectacle, but the rest is forgettable, poorly shot and poorly edited.
The editing doesn’t just dampen a couple of scenes. Too much has been taken out of the film, which makes the development seem somewhat rushed. Some relationships feel a little forced, like the budding romance between Thor and Natalie Portman’s character. It feels like when you skip a chapter on a DVD – not disastrous but not complete.
Overall, 'Thor' is everything a comic book movie should be. It is balanced between its fidelity to source material and its accessibility to newcomers, between over-the-top seriousness and light-hearted fun. This is a good film, although an extended cut would make it great.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman
'Thor' is on wide release in the UK now, and will be on wide release in the US on May 6th.