So far in this new line of Marvel-made superhero movies we’ve had the terrific Iron Man, the enjoyable The Incredible Hulk and the fun if underwhelming Iron Man 2. Now we have what may be the hardest superhero in Marvel’s library to get right on the big screen, the mighty god of thunder, Thor.
But by shrewdly going with an off-the-wall choice of director in Kenneth Branagh (who’s more associated with Shakespeare than anything else), Marvel has produced one of their most solid flicks to date, a film that’s a fun ride but also has some serious weight to it, exploring a story of honour, power struggles, and betrayal in a grandiose way you usually don’t see in this kind of movie.
The film follows Thor, son of the god Odin, who along with his brother Loki is in line to take over as King of Asgard once their father hands over the throne of power. Once he is fully grown it transpires that Thor is the one to take up the mantle next; however just before he is proclaimed King, Asgard is attacked by enemies from another realm, the daunting Frost Giants, and going against his father’s will Thor heads to their realm to warn them off from attacking again.
However, as a result of this a war is started and the once peaceful land of Asgard is now in danger. Odin decides Thor is unworthy of the throne and takes away his power and casts him out to another one of the nine realms – Earth.
The danger with any film – superhero-related or otherwise – that deals with ancient gods and mythical kingdoms is that they can so easily seem cheap or fake. Not so with Thor. Marvel, Branagh, and the rest involved make the world of Asgard seem as realistic as the Earth setting we see in the film, its golden archways, shining armour, and gargantuan size completely believable in their own right. The Louis Leterrier-directed (who coincidentally directed Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk) Clash of the Titans did everything wrong with that sort of world which Thor does right, and the makers of the sequel to that film, appropriately titled Wrath of the Titans, should be taking fervent notes on Marvel’s latest outing.
Thor also gets right its diverse casting, particularly when it comes down to the all-important Thor himself. Chris Hemsworth certainly wasn’t the obvious choice for the role and I was dubious about him taking the role on even after being somewhat reassured by the trailers. But as it turns out Hemsworth (whom most geek fans will remember as Captain Kirk’s father at the start of J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot) is the perfect casting choice for Thor – he looks the part, both in pure resemblance to the comic book character and by being physically dominating. He handles the fight sequences very well and adds to the believability of it all. He also has a cheeky, cocky side to him that’s almost like the tough-guy version of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Supporting Hemsworth is an eclectic cast of famous and not-so-famous faces: the incomparable Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall (he who guards the means of travel between realms), and Rene Russo as Thor’s mother. And that’s just those found in Asgard; on earth we have Natalie Portman as Jane, the head of a scientific research team which also includes Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings (also look out for a cameo by Jeremy Renner, hinting at a future character who will appear in the forthcoming The Avengers).
The special effects are fantastic here, everything from the creation of the Asgard city and other linked realms, including all the magical elements that go with them, to the obligatory explosions that you always find (and admittedly need to have) in these kinds of movies. However, as a director well versed in grandness, Branagh manages to keep all of this mayhem under control, reining in this potentially muddled story.
As Marvel has been doing up until this point, Thor does a great job of tying things into the whole superhero universe that they have created. It might have felt a bit heavy-handed with their last film, Iron Man 2, but here they manage to strike the perfect balance of this being a film in its own right but also one which is part of something larger.
Having said all that, the film is hardly perfect. My biggest problem with it is the purported relationship between Thor and one of the main human characters, Jane (played by the Oscar-winning Natalie Portman). Enough time isn’t spent (there is only a handful of scenes where they are alone together) on the building of a believable relationship between the two for us to necessarily care all that much that they end up together. This would be okay if a large part of the story (or at least how it’s going to be carried forward into more films) didn’t hinge on that relationship.
The other problem I had with the film was a sense of corniness sometimes when dealing with some of the key themes like pride and honour. For the most part these things are dealt with completely seriously but there are moments that are cheesy and which detract from the rest of the movie.
However, the positives far outweigh the negatives here as Thor is a handsomely made, genuinely exciting and engaging superhero movie with a surprisingly relatable central hero, inventive action sequences, and a sense of grandness that only a director like Branagh could achieve. Not the best of Marvel’s new slate of superhero movies (thus far, we still have Captain America and The Avengers to come) as that honour still goes to the first Iron Man, but nonetheless a solid action movie pretty much from start to finish.