Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)

AvengersWhile attempting to retrieve Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra stronghold, The Avengers encounter a pair of superpowered siblings (Elizabeth Olsen; Aaron Taylor-Johnson) seeking revenge on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) for the role his company inadvertently played in the death of their parents. Wanda — a woman with unusual influence over the minds of others — undermines Stark’s already fragile mental state, and compromised he returns to New York concerned that he has not yet done enough to secure the safety of all mankind. Together with Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he uses the sceptre and the mystical gem it contains to unlock the secrets of consciousness with the aim of improving the effectiveness of his drone army, inadvertently leading one of his suits to become self-aware. Named Ultron (James Spader), the nascent AI declares war on its creators, along with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the rest of humanity.

A lot has changed since the release of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in 2012; and although much of that change has been orchestrated on purpose some of the repercussions have proven to be beyond even Marvel’s (now Disney’s, of course) considerable control. Now eleven films into its unprecedented, pioneering and as yet unparalleled mega-franchise — the no longer burgeoning but rather burdened MCU — and five films on from the Battle of New York, the studio has issued returning director and overseer Joss Whedon with a very different task indeed. Already assembled, the titular super-team must now be developed, redeployed and ultimately divided ahead of the next cinematic season — a tertiary series of instalments known as Phase Three, and already set to kick off next year with Captain America: Civil War. Whereas once the idea of merging four individual franchises was audacious enough, the MCU has now grown to such a size — Marvel’s television division included — that with hindsight it suddenly seems like the simplest thing in the world.

Remarkably, Whedon once again pulls it off — using his experience on the previous film in addition to his time as showrunner on programmes such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly to duly focus on the monster-of-the-year while simultaneously furthering the overarching arcs of his various heroes — albeit without quite the same sense of enthusiasm or effortlessness. While offscreen the director has been lamenting the shoot, talking at length about how the process has not just exhausted but damn near ended him too, onscreen the spectacle has lost some of its box-fresh sparkle. The intention was always to go deeper rather than larger, but while Iron Man and co. are indeed subjected to increased scrutiny the stakes have arguably never been higher. Since Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki’s failed bid for world domination, Miami, London, Washington and the planet of Xandar have all gone the way of New York, leaving audiences fatigued and Age Of Ultron with fewer places in the known (or even unknown) universe left to blow up. The relationships have never been more compelling, the characters never more engaging and the witticisms never more entertaining, but the set pieces aren’t what they once were. A battle between Hulk and Hulkbuster is as interminable as it is unnecessary, while the finale is simply a variation on an overly familiar theme.

That Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron is underwhelming, however, is inevitable — in many ways it’s a victim of its own success. Phase Two has never quite lived up to Phase One, with each film struggling to find its place in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic and televisual universe. Some like Iron Man 3 have pushed for auteurial autonomy over studio synergy at the expense of a comprehensive experience, while Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Solider have taken a more utilitarian and cohesive approach to storytelling, leaving Agents of SHIELD to fill in the gaps. Already on uneven footing, Whedon was never going to replicate his previous success with its firmer foundations and novel ambitions, but it’s to the director’s credit that he at least succeeds in expanding on it. New additions Vision, Wanda and Pietro steal the show, as does Ultron, the saga’s best villain by far, while expanded roles for supporting characters such as Black Widow, Hawkeye and War Machine are very welcome indeed — Don Cheadle in particular is a delight. It’s an unexpected inversion; the key question coming out of Avengers Assemble was whether anyone would be interested in the composite series after the first crossover, so it’s a little surprising that secondary or even tertiary characters should be missed in the latest team-up. Nevertheless, you still find yourself asking what Pepper Potts, Darcy Lewis or Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk might be making of Ultron’s actions.

Although it may seem that every successful film is spawning a shared universe these days, the truth is that the MCU remains unique — and as such the usual rules don’t really apply. As with much of Phase Two Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a flawed film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is part of a failed experiment. Regardless of what becomes of Ultron or any of the other characters, the story is not over yet, and it may well be that with repeated viewings or subsequent instalments audiences’ perceptions of Age Of Ultron may change. For now, though, the disappointment is undeniable, if perfectly understandable.

3-Stars

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The Railway Man (2014)

The Railway ManEric Lomax (Colin Firth) is — and has always been — a railway enthusiast, and it’s while travelling from Glasgow by train that he meets his future wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman). All seems well to begin with, but Eric’s troubles soon drive a wedge between them. His passion for railways may have survived the war, most of which Eric (Jeremy Irvine) spent in captivity, forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway, but other aspects of his personality were not so lucky. With Lomax refusing to discuss his time in Singapore, Patti turns to Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård), a close family friend and ex-prisoner of war for answers.

There comes a point during The Railway Man, Jonathan Teplitzky’s adaptation of Eric Lomax’s bestselling autobiography, when you begin to wonder if Jeremy Irvine is ever going to show up. Not that it’s a chore to spend time in the company of Colin Firth’s older incarnation — not at all; he’s never anything less than compelling — but as he meets and marries Patti, and attends gatherings with fellow veteran Finlay, his traumatic past hangs over the film, impatient and demanding attention. The Railway Man refers to both the young POW forced to build railways, and the older veteran taking solace in riding them, yet the film seems weighted unfairly towards the latter.

Firth is brilliant as Lomax, a man attempting to be loving and composed for those around him but haunted by past horrors that they will never understand. It’s a character that he does very well, and you don’t have to look very hard to find precedent in A Single Man or even The King’s Speech. That said, as an exploration of the more longitudinal effects of war on the human psyche it retains some semblance of novelty. Irvine, on the other hand, is quite the revelation, not only delivering a performance that is impressive in and of itself, but which also perfectly complements Firth’s own work. The War Horse actor has clearly done his research, and his understanding and imitation of Firth’s mannerisms is truly uncanny.

It’s not just the performances that convince, either, with the sets and costumes deserving praise too. It might seem like a strange thing to mention, but with the film jumping between two time periods, and two continents, creating a convincing context is incredibly important. So much goes unsaid in the film, particularly by Firth, that the onus is on Teplitzky to produce a world that is to a certain extent self-explanatory. Set decorations in Lomax’s house tell you everything you need to know about the character, while the Burmese jungle (actually Queensland, Australia) is rendered so inhospitable that you don’t have to see as much violence to fully appreciate the hardship.

Hair and make-up can’t do it all, however, and if there’s an issue with The Railway Man it’s that it leaves a little too much to the imagination. It’s clear that Lomax is a damaged man, but when the bailiffs show up at his door you can’t help but wonder just how the man has scraped by in the years following his return to civilian life and preceding his marriage to Patti. This time period is positively spoon fed, however, when compared to the section spent in Asia. We are thrust into the conflict just as Lomax and company are captured by the Japanese, and the next thing you know they’re at work on the railway. The film could have perhaps done with less time spent making rice in Berwick-upon-Tweed and more time in the war-torn east.

The balance between stories might be slightly off and the 15 certificate may seem a little lightweight given the subject matter (while the two uses of “Hickory Dickory Dock” are never adequately explained), but overall The Railway Man is a strong adaptation of a much loved book. Firth and Irvine are ably supported by Kidman, Skarsgård and Hiroyuki Sanada, and together they bring to life a narrative that would be almost unbelievable if it weren’t based on a true story.

3.5-Stars

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor 2As punishment for his actions on Midgard, which left New York in ruin and S.H.I.E.L.D. reeling from the resultant alien invasion, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is incarcerated in the cells of Asgard while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) attempts to restore peace to the Nine Realms. Meanwhile, with Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) warning of an approaching convergence of worlds, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and her intern (Jonathan Howard) visit a site in London where the laws of physics seem to have been suspended. The last time the realms aligned an army of Dark Elves — led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) — tried to plunge the universe into darkness using something called the Aether, and now that the phenomenon is finally set to repeat he is regrouping his forces for another attempt.

There is a scene towards the end of Man Of Steel, during the climatic battle, where the staff of the Daily Planet are put in harm’s way, and the stage is set for some mild peril. It’s a laughably inept attempt by director Zack Snyder to keep the audience engaged with the plight of the human race — the apparently sole survivors of a massacred Metropolis carelessly shoehorned between pixellated set-pieces involving Superman and some sort of space drill — and only serves to demonstrate even further the disconnect between film and viewer.

Compare that to the human element in Thor, Kenneth Branagh’s film about another God-like extraterrestrial, represented this time by anomaly-chasing astrophysicists Jane, Darcy and Dr. Erik Selvig. Not only are they fully formed characters that entertain whenever they are onscreen, an equal match for the Asgardian action taking place on the other side of the universe, but they are arguably developed and interesting enough that they could support a spin-off all of their own. When the film ends, you feel just as much for Jane as you do for Thor, if not more so. You couldn’t say that for “Jenny”, no last name.

The team return in Thor: The Dark World, this time working from Jane’s mum’s house as they try to hide out from S.H.I.E.L.D. (in London, for some reason — presumably not the abundance of CCTV cameras). We re-join Jane on a first-date with Chris O’Dowd’s photocopier, and despite following a pre-historic genocide at the hands of the Dark Elves and a Thor-led peacekeeping mission to rural Vanaheim it stands its ground, providing a moment of calm, comedy and humanity before the next dose of comic book nonsense. It’s a hallmark of Marvel, and a balance that both Thor and Avengers Assemble struck particularly well. The studio’s good humour continues to set the studio not just apart but ahead of its competition.

Not that the comic book nonsense doesn’t entertain in its own right; where Iron Man 3 was more of an experimental Shane Black movie than part of a shared universe and the seventh instalment in a blockbusting mega-franchise, Thor: The Dark World is only to happy to pander to the home crowd with in-jokes, call-backs and cameos aplenty. Game Of Thrones director Alan Taylor gives proceedings the gravitas necessary to distinguish the film from Branagh’s fairy tale origin story, but he laces even the darkness with enough humour to keep it buoyant and child-friendly. This is most true during the final battle, as Thor and Malekith fight their way around London: not only is it one of the most spectacular skirmishes of the year, but it’s far and away the funniest.

Hemsworth continues to boom beautifully as the titular God of Thunder, while his royal family and Norse chorus vie for any leftover ham. All is not well on Asgard, and the director isn’t afraid to put his characters through the ringer in the name of drama and development. Hiddleston still reigns supreme, however, stealing every scene he’s in as Thor’s scheming (adopted) brother Loki. Luckily, he’s absent for much of the first act, and that leaves ample room for Portman, Dennings and Skarsgård to shine back on Earth. Really, with the understandable exception of perhaps Ian Boothby the intern’s intern, the only characters under-served are Sif and The Warrior’s Three, though it has been suggested that there might be more of at least the former in a future DVD’s deleted scenes.

If the film wasn’t so entertaining it might be easy — and actually worth — pointing out the admittedly many imperfections. Malekith is pretty slight, at least in the film’s current edit, though his army of Dark Elves is effective and at times even mildly disquieting. Also of concern is the sheer amount of coincidence involved in getting the narrative off the ground — it is about as aerodynamic as Thor himself. The introduction of the Aether is particularly lazy, while the script relies a little too heavily on misdirection. There is also a bit of a lull in the second act; Taylor’s film is over-plotted and overcrowded, and while the logistics might never detract from the film’s enjoyment it does make writing a synopsis something of a challenge. The attack on Asgard must have been a nightmare to choreograph.

Overall, though, Thor: The Dark World is another success for Marvel Studios, and many fans may even see it as something of a return to form following the mixed allegiances of Iron Man 3. It shakes things up nicely, as you would hope given Taylor’s involvement, and leaves plenty in play for not only Thor 3 but the rest of “Phase Two” as well. Thor and mew-mew will return.

4-Stars

INTERVIEW: Marius Holst talks King Of Devil’s Island

Following somewhat of a whirlwind tour of the industry circuit’s most celebrated film festivals, not to mention a warm reception both critically and commercially, Marius Holst‘s astounding King Of Devil’s Island is now yours to own on DVD and Blu-ray.

Centring on two young inmates at Bastøy Prison in Norway, the film charts their road to friendship against a backdrop of harsh conditions, manual labour and child abuse. Unable to escape, they must fight for their futures.

Last week, I put a few questions to the director to mark the film’s home entertainment release, and he was kind enough to say a few words about its basis in reality, the gruelling shoot, the phenomenal cast and his plans for the future.

Involved from the beginning, Marius Holst had first attempted to get the film off the ground five or six years ago, when he began developing the story with a writer, but it simply wasn’t to be. After taking the project to a number of producers, Holst decided instead to produce it through his own company, 4 ½, established back in 1998.

When asked if he was surprised that such an infamous episode in Norwegian history hadn’t been dramatised sooner, he pointed out that although he was aware of the legend of Bastøy, the sheer extent of the island’s dark history was not known to him until he had started researching it.

“I guess no-one went into it in the same way. I started speaking to people and then going into the archives and reading about it. And that, of course, is when I started reading about the uprising.”

Shot in Estonia during the winter, the fifty-four day shoot was every bit as exhausting as it looks onscreen. For the film’s director — and key financer, both personally and through his production company — the biggest strain came not from the weather but from balancing the business of filmmaking with the books.

“I think for me the situation that made it tough was that I was carrying the creative responsibility for the film, but also the financial risk for the film. If the film hadn’t performed we would have been in a tight spot. It’s difficult to wear those two heads; to be on set, but at the same time trying not to run into overtime and be sensible in the way you film.”

Luckily for King Of Devil’s Island, it’s most famous cast member was invaluable in helping to draw some much-needed money to production when it was experiencing financial difficulties. Involved from the very start, before the film first broke down, Stellan Skarsgård was able to re-join the film when another project broke down in the states.

“I had Stellan [Skarsgård] in my mind from the start. He didn’t take much convincing. He liked the project, and he wanted to be on the project.”

As for the young cast, Holst knew he wanted to cast non-actors, but was also aware that the demands inherent in the roles would be challenging even for trained professionals. Searching for two young men who had both real presence and the ability to go to some difficult places emotionally, the director eventually settled on unknowns Benjamin Helstad and Trond Nilssen.

As for the future? Having almost finished his duties for King Of Devil’s Island‘s home entertainment release — after almost a decade of planning, production and promotion — Holst has two projects in mind, but hasn’t settled on one in particular. While neither project was developed by the director himself, at least one will see him helming another period piece, based on real events.

Whatever it is, we can’t wait to find out more in the future. You can read my review of King Of Devil’s Island here.

*I would like to thank Marius Holst for taking the time to answer my questions, as well as Abundant PR for making this interview possible in the first place.

King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy, 2010)

Upon their arrival at Bastøy Correctional Facility in the Oslo fjord, young offenders Erling (Benjamin Helstad) and Ivar (Magnus Langlete) are renamed C19 and C5 and shown to their new lodgings under the watchful eye of old-hand C1 (Trond Nilssen). After nine years, C1 is awaiting his pardon from Governor Håkon (Stellan Skarsgård), something he is not willing to let Erling jeopardise with his unruly behaviour and repeated escape attempts. When C5 is prayed upon by a Braaten (Kristoffer Joner), a member of staff notorious amongst the boys as a child abuser, however, C1 must decide what is worth more: his freedom from Bastøy or from his own guilty conscious.

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Avengers Assemble (2012)


Saved from oblivion by a race of aliens craving dominion, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth in search of The Tesseract: an item of unlimited power that currently lies with S.H.I.E.L.D. When it is stolen and the world endangered, Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) revive the Avengers Initiative in the hope of uniting Earth’s mightiest heroes. As they reach out to Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), however, it quickly becomes clear that a vengeful former Asgardian and an army of extraterrestrial warriors might be the least of their worries.

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If 2011 Were A Movie…

In recent years we have seen Hollywood tap a variety of different resources in its ongoing search for new ideas. Stopping just short of sticking its hand down the side of the sofa and rummaging for loose inspiration, Tinseltown has instead chosen to adapt everything from the usual books, video games and television shows, to websites, theme park rides and – I still can’t quite believe it –  even board games. So, why not an entire year?

If 2011 were a movie, aside from reflecting such recent events as The Royal Wedding, the London riots, the Eurozone crisis and those pandas arriving at Edinburgh zoo, it would also have to reflect the trends and tendencies prevalent in the films it has seen released during its tenure. As such, it would most likely be a remake of a foreign language prequel, a motion-capture throwback and a steamy tale of friends with benefits, with no strings attached.

If 2011 were a movie it would star Michael Fassbender as a man haunted by an unsuppressable Irish accent, Ryan Gosling as someone who can wear clothes really well, and Natalie Portman in the midst of what must amount to the most productive pregnancy ever. Stellan Skarsgård would play a man with a hidden agenda, Felicity Jones’ character would ultimately win your heart and Justin Timberlake would appear as a surprisingly capable actor.

If 2011 were a movie it would be set in Rio de Janeiro, where endangered birds come to mate, the fast are as fun as they are furious, and vampires routinely honeymoon.  At least, that is, until Michael Bay crashes a Transformer into it, forcing our heroes to set sale, on stranger tides, in search of the secret of the unicorn. On a Zeppelin. It would see McLovin slay some vampires, James Bond team up with Indiana Jones, and Queen Amidala wooed by a bunch of carrots and a period mix.

If 2011 were a movie it would be called 2011: The Movie – Part II Of The Rise Of The Planet of The Apes Of The Moon 3D (in 4romascope). It would have more punctuation than characters, more dimensions than punctuation, and in all likelihood be prefixed with Green. It would be a kid’s film by Martin Scorsese, a superhero movie by Michael Gondry, a live action movie by Brad Bird and an animated movie by Steven Spielberg.

If 2011 were a movie it wouldn’t be as good as the book, the original or the trailer for Sucker Punch made it out to be. It would miscast Liam Neeson, boast too much Nicolas Cage, and at some point feature a fat character shaving his head and shitting into her dress. Worst of all, however, New Year’s Eve would kill the finale. And it would be inexplicably steampunk.

More importantly, however, if 2011 were a movie I would pay to see it. I would marvel at its melancholy, gasp at its production values and laugh unabashedly at its failure to kill Bono. It would be surprisingly heartfelt for a summer blockbuster, unexpectedly jaw-dropping for a low budget Norwegian flick, as funny as the TV show, and a fitting conclusion to a much loved franchise.

If 2011 were a movie, 2012 would have a lot to live up to.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Driven near-mad by the continuation of a tradition which should have ceased with her disappearance, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) in a last-ditch attempt to determine the identity of his great-niece, Harriet Vanger’s killer – someone who Henrik believes to be a member of his own warring family. Promised information which might help to clear his name, Mikael takes on a research partner to assist him in solving a case which has baffled the local authorities for 40 years. Before she can bring her unparalleled abilities to the table, however, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) must overcome troubles of her own.

David Fincher’s re-adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo gets off to a promising start. Kick-starting proceedings with a Bond-esque opening number brought to life by a CG river of shape-shifting metal, the film’s title sequence is quite something to behold, hinting at the darkness to come while also foreshadowing elements of the following instalments: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest. Alas, the creativity and ingenuity displayed in said sequence sets the bar too high, and Fincher spends the rest of the movie trying to deliver on his initial promise, one which at times seems directly at odds with his source material.

Let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against remakes. Indeed, given the right circumstances they can even play an important role in the filmmaking process. Gore Verbinski, Zach Snyder and Marcus Nispel, to name but a few, all honed their craft helming remakes of horror classics, each franchise diluted by a stream of lesser sequels, and practically calling out for another lease of life. While the results might themselves have failed to recreate the same success as the originals, they at least updated the stories for contemporary – and often foreign – audiences; nobody wanted to see A Nightmare On Elm Street 25, but there was still undoubtedly an audience for a new take on the original premise.

Enter David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Now, Fincher is not some filmmaking hack in need of a guaranteed hit, nor is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo an outdated work plagued by diminishing returns. Both are respected, and both are better than this: a needless, and ultimately thankless attempt to pander to an ignorant American audience. Attempting to justify his reimagining’s existence (it’s not a remake, but a new interpretation. Apparently), Fincher and his screenwriters have bent the narrative out of shape – shifting focus from the central mystery to the relationship between the two lead characters – and in so doing have birthed something misshapen and unwieldy.

Attempting to stay true – if not truer – to Stieg Larsson’s source novel, the filmmakers have reassigned emphasis, re-inserted plot points and rejigged the narrative in a bid for distinction. Importantly, however, they have not relocated the action, instead opting to once again set the narrative in and around Stockholm. As such we have a story which – although just 6 minutes longer – feels almost glacial in pace, a mystery which any perusal of the film’s casting will solve in an instant, and characters who speak English (even when both onscreen are Swedish) for no apparent reason other than to ensure that audiences need not read subtitles – no doubt the reason that they ignored director Niels Arden Oplev’s superior original in the first place.

Not that I was a particularly huge fan of the story the first time around. A minimalist screenplay, ludicrous plotting and disappointing dénouement robbed even the original from a place in my list favourite movies of either year. While Rooney Mara may excel as Lisbeth Salander (no small ask for such a strong and iconic character) and Daniel Craig may finally find a role suited to his talents in Mikael Blomkvist (a name which is not so suited to his accent), there is nothing on display to suggest that this is anything more than just the same story, the same flaws, repeated in the hopes of securing a wider audience.

Inexplicably paced, poorly judged and utterly pointless, Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a competent but wholly unnecessary retread of ideas formulated better elsewhere. Despite capable performances, stylish direction and a killer opening sequence, this film ultimately makes little or no case for its existence.

Thor (2011)

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!