Thor feels more like an obligation than a work of passion, a blockbuster fashioned to help support Marvel’s forthcoming Avengers flick, as opposed to enthralling on its own terms. Overseen by Kenneth Branagh, Thor is a watchable romp that boasts some terrific production design and an engaging lead performance, but a rusty screenplay prevents it from hitting the same genre highs as Iron Man or Bryan Singer’s X-Men pictures. Granted, Thor was always going to be the trickiest Avenger to pull off competently, but even that can’t excuse the film’s messy and derivative script.
After leading a doomed attack on another race, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself cast out of the majestic realm of Asgard, and forced to take up residence on Earth. In his native land Thor was a reckless and powerful warrior, but stripped of his abilities and mighty hammer, he finds himself lost in this new alien world. Discovered by a struggling physicist called Jane (Natalie Portman), Thor quickly makes an impression on the young woman, but not before the S.H.I.E.L.D organization comes looking for him. Making matters worse is the situation in Asgard, as Thor’s father King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) begins to fade, leaving the throne to his confused and manipulative other son Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki views his earthbound sibling as a threat, quickly fingering him as a target for annihilation. Thusly it is up to Thor to protect both himself, and to defend the humans with whom he now resides.
Branagh has done a smashing job in realizing Asgard, bringing it to life with luscious detail and appropriate grandeur. Visually Thor is a marvellous film to behold, filled as it with superb CGI and imaginative imagery. Branagh has certainly stuffed the project with a decadent aesthetic, every frame buffered by lavish cinematography and triumphant production design. Asgard alone would put sets from The Lord of the Rings to shame, a layered and meticulously crafted fantasy world of unquestionable quality, and one improved through the use of 3D. The addition of the third dimension doesn’t always play to the movie’s benefit (cluttered action sequences), but it definitely provides Thor with the sense of scope its various environments demand.
The storytelling on show might appeal to comic book enthusiasts; sadly I don’t count myself amongst that demographic. For a Marvel novice the plotting in Thor is both unoriginal and uninspired, shoving the hero through a selection of formulaic arcs, before climaxing on a generic note of redemption. The writers do a credible job of fleshing out the title character and his mischievous sibling (portrayed well by Hiddleston), but other supporting figures are left to wither. Portman has enough bravado and personality to make Jane work despite having little to draw on, although her burgeoning chemistry with Hemsworth always feels forced. Hopkins could do Odin in his sleep (and at times it appears that literally is the case), but other thespians including Kat Dennings (still refusing to display range) and Stellan Skarsgard (thankless role) feel surplus to the screenplay’s limited requirements.
As the titular God of Thunder Hemsworth is fun, handling both the physical elements and softer fish out of water moments well. Thor is perhaps at its most enjoyable when exploiting its protagonist’s cluelessness for giggles, watching the Norse legend struggle with Earthly ways is something of a treat. Branagh also stages the set-pieces proficiently, especially an early one in which a band of Asgard’s finest warriors take on swathes of opposition. It’s a manic sequence, Branagh lacing it with threat and most importantly energy, all the while keeping his camera movements coherent. Some of the later action scenes feel a tad familiar (giant robots haven’t been fresh for about 50 years), but generally when it comes to exhilarating carnage Thor delivers.
Thor officially kicks the summer 2011 season into gear, and looks set to continue Marvel’s unbelievably lucrative box-office streak. Converting Nordic mythology into a cool 21st Century picture was always going to be hard, so the filmmakers should be chuffed they’ve nearly pulled it off. It’s a muddled and overstretched production with several fundamental flaws, but hey, at least it’s rarely boring. When it comes to an event picture that counts for something, right?
Thor is out in cinemas 27th April 2011.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller (screenplay), Zack Stentz (screenplay), and 6 more credits »
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman