Review: Thor (2011)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

***

And so, they year of cinematic unexpectedness continues unabashed. After Werner Herzog’s 3D movie, we get Kenneth Branagh’s superhero action movie. At this rate, Michael Bay’s period romance should be due any time now. Not only is it an action flick from the Bard’s director of choice, it’s also a film adaptation of one of Marvel’s most far-fetched (read: daftest) superheroes, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Norse god of thunder,  is banished to Earth after disobeying his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) orders. Humanoid aliens wearing their underpants as overpants is one thing, but quasi-deities from other dimensions? Yes, summer season has arrived. Check your disbelief in at the lobby.

As inherently silly as it is, Thor actually takes its backstory quite seriously; not an easy task when most everybody is swanning about in capes and winged helmets. The fearless and arrogant Thor is one of a band of valiant warriors (which includes Ray Stevenson’s Volstag and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Thor’s brother) who protect their realm of Asgard from attack by their enemies the Frost Giants, led by Colm Feore’s Laufrey. The fact that there are creatures named Frost Giants in Thor probably tells you all you need to know about the movie. The script (by Zack Stentz, Ashley Miller and Don Payne) is fully aware of Thor’s fun-but-campy comic book origins, and decides to run with it, milking laughs. Once Thor is banished from Asgard for leading an attack on the Frost Giants, he’s dumped in New Mexico, where he is found by astrophysicist researchers (Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård and the omnipresent Natalie Portman), and finds himself robbed of his weapon Mjollnir and his immense strength. This leads to some great fish-out-of-water moments (bursting into a pet store demanding a horse, for example), but also to a whirlwind romance with Portman’s Jane Foster and Thor’s realization of his arrogant ways before fighting some nasties sent from Asgard and taking on his brother in a final battle. That’s the problem with campiness: it can sometimes be terribly predictable. However, it doesn’t really matter, since Thor is just one of the numerous origin stories that had to be made before The Avengers could come to fruition. Like Iron Man, the script is just adequate enough to explain Thor until Joss Whedon’s super-superhero flick hits cinemas in 2012.

Still, the question remains: how does Branagh cut it as an action director? The answer: surprisingly well. There’s sufficient amounts of monsters attacking each other and things going Kaboom, with an early battle in the Frost Giants’ realm making a big (and LOUD) impression. Asgard is stuffed with gold-plated doors and floors and landscapes resembling the best of Middle-Earth’s leftovers. Hemsworth has enough charisma to make Thor likable, but gets plenty of support from the likes of Portman, Dennings and Idris Elba (as Asgard guardian Heimdall), whilst Hiddleston all but steals the show as the treacherous Loki. Ultimately though, Thor is just a filler, a teaser of things to come. It has a big budget, and having the likes of Hopkins and Branagh involved ups the respectability factor. Yet, when you spy Jeremy Renner (a.k.a. The Avengers’ Hawkeye) in a cameo, it’s clear that Thor is intended to function (and may make a bigger impression) as part of a unit.

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