April 23, 2011 5 Comments
Banished from Asgard for breaking an ancient truce with the Frost Giant realm of Jotunheim, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth for a lesson in humility. Discovered wandering the desert amid an astrophysical event, Thor collides with a van driven by scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). Taken to hospital after Darcy tasers him for good measure, Thor soon attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who confiscates Jane’s research and pursues Thor for information. Left with nothing to show for her life’s work, Jane retrieves Thor from hospital and helps him find Mjolnir, the enchanted hammer awaiting a worthy warrior to wield it, and learns of the connection between the interstellar phenomenon she has been studying and the Bifröst bridge that connects Asgard to the other eight realms. When Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) usurps the throne, however, Thor must reunite with allies Sif and the Warriors Three in order to save Earth from the war with a marauding golem sent by his brother and defeat Loki before the war with the Frost Giants can begin proper.
The first of two fledgeling Avengers to receive the big screen treatment this year, Thor was always a more intriguing prospect than July’s Captain America movie. Trapped in development Hell for years, it was always going to be a difficult endeavour breathing cinematic life into one of Marvel’s most outlandish properties. With Kenneth Branagh aboard, however, the stage was set for a directorial style which wouldn’t hide from the characters origins as an alien God from another realm. It is with a massive grin that I report that Branagh has succeeded masterfully, with a story that jumps between Argard and an American diner with improbable finesse. This is a very different – a very necessarily different – superhero movie, and it is a wonder to behold.
Treating the Asgard-set drama with Shakespearian respect, the film doesn’t bat a eyelid as it introduces frost giants, enchanted hammers and rainbow bridges. Once on Earth, however, the preposterousness of the set up is ostensibly “fair game”, with the movie’s tone often verging on that of a shameless culture clash comedy. The result is a wonderfully satisfying and bizarrely eclectic cinematic experience which jumps from Anthony Hopkins’ Thesping it up as Odin to Kat Dennings lowering of the brow with a mispronunciation of Mjolnir. As well a being epically grandiose, the, and suitably spectacular when it comes to inter-deity smackdown, Thor is one of the funniest superheroes working today – the Anung Un Rama of Marvel’s Asgard.
The film’s success is largely down to Hemsworth’s performance as Thor. Fresh from fathering James T. Kirk, Hemsworth manages the dichotomy between heaven and Earth admirably, never once leaving himself open to parody unless expressly required to be the script. A delightfully compelling fish out of water, it will be interesting to see how his Thor gels with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. Tom Hiddleston, too, gives an accomplished performance as Loki, setting himself up as one of the heavyweights in Marvel’s hall of villainy. It is in the film’s human element, however, that Thor shines. Natalie Portman’s inquisitive astrophysicist fleshes out her potentially stock love interest with graceful aplomb, bringing her vulnerability and charm to a story with might easily have been lost in the clouds.
That said, Thor isn’t the masterpiece I foolishly wished it to be. With the amount of exposition necessary just to get the thing off the ground – setting up both Thor’s origins in Asguard and the motivations of Jane Foster and her merry band of scientists – it was going to take a master story teller to maintain a throughline of compelling proportions. While Branagh copes admirably with the impressive scene setting, he struggles to weave those scenes into a truly fulfilling whole. Although he is to be commended for keeping such an intimate feel to proceedings that feature multiple realms and numerous battles, there wasn’t enough time spent in either reality to warrant the levels of investment necessary for true immersion.
As an origin story, however – and as an origin story less versed than that of other superheroes – Thor is positively bursting with potential, begging for further exploration and fully justifying what could otherwise have been just another superhero franchise. One thing, at least, is for certain: The Avengers is going to be amazeballs!