Avengers Month: ‘Thor’ Review

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg

Plot: When Thor, the headstrong son of Odin, disobeys his fathers wishes and attacks the Frost Giants Odin banishes the young thunder god to the Earth Realm. Meanwhile Thor’s half brother Loki learns of his true heritage and seeks to usurp the throne.

Review: Out of the four main characters from The Avengers (that is, the four who scored their own movie) Thor seemed the most difficult to fit into the modern mythos. Iron Man and Hulk both gave us very grounded superheroes and Captain America was set to rewrite World War 2, giving it an extra dose of suspension of belief. Plunking down the Norse God of Thunder in the middle of the real-world politics and flawed-and-human science heroes to swing his magic hammer at Frost Giants could stretch the credibility of the series to breaking point. Or look silly. He may just look silly.

Yes. Silly.

Tasking Kenneth Branagh with directing duties was a good start. With the movie half set is Asgard we wind up with plenty of posturing and Ye Olde dialogue. Branagh brings to the table his experiences of working with Shakespeare’s dialogue, and a talent for making it sound real and genuine in a modern movie without losing any of its weight or meaning (while half the cast of Romeo + Juliet sound like they’re reading from palm cards). Asgard looks impressive in that heavily CGI’d way, with some good design choices that bring the mythical realm to life and stays true to the traditional interpretations. Branagh populates it with strong characters – although some of the outlying support characters are a bit thin, but that’s their role to play – with the dynamic between Thor, Loki and Odin forming the core of the film.

What really seals the deal is the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the titular Thunder God. Being essentially a coming of age story with a mythological bent the audience needs to sold on Thor even when he’s acting like an arrogant, self-centered and rather bone-headed spoiled kid with a sense of entitlement. Hemsworth has an easy charm that makes him easy to like even when he’s acting like an arse. It’s easy to see why he can convince his colleagues to follow him into a battle even though they know it’s the wrong thing to do. His routine becomes even more entertaining when he’s put among the people of Earth, with his method of ordering coffee the highlight of the movie.

"If I told you to kick your puppy, you'd think about doing it."

Hiddleson as Loki is just as noteworthy playing the villain. Although his switch to the dark side feels a bit sudden with the completely polarizing shift from good to evil he’s a remarkably sympathetic baddie. While Iron Monger, Abomination, Justin Hammer, Whiplash and Red Skull are jerks for the sake of being jerks Loki is driven by a rage of factors that are quite easy to relate to. He’s trapped in the shadow of his powerful brother, he’s mocked by his peers and ultimately finds out that he was deceived by his father. Instead of simply heading out to conquer the world he seeks to claim his father and brothers legacy in order to make his own name. Although they don’t share much screen time during the second act they do have one of the best rivalries in superhero cinema.

"Villain? Me?"

When Thor lands himself on Earth and turns into a fish out of water he has another strong support cast to interact with. Portman and Skarsgard on both on good form providing exposition and looking befuddled as they try and work this guy out. Kat Dennings scores most of the best lines as the much needed comic relief, breaking up the weightier moments with some kooky quips. Agent Coulson is as cool as ever, but gets schooled by Jeremy Renner making his debut as Hawkeye.

Although the characters carry the film rather well, it is still a superhero movie and that brings expectations about some big and exciting biffo. The major battles feature Thor and Co smacking around the Frost Giants, Thor breaking into a SHIELD camp, Thor and Co tackling a tin-dragon-man and the final smack down. They deliver on the excitement and the special effects are blended well with the actors to take things up the level of spectacular. Some fall a bit short – most notably the final battle with Loki – and they do get a bit to spaced out during the second act, but they’re fun enough to give the movie it’s action credentials.

"It...appears to be a hammer..."

As an origin story it works better than most of the Marvel movies, setting both Thor and Loki up nicely for key roles in The Avengers and the upcomingThor 2 that begins filming this year, reuniting Thor and Jane. As a comic book movie it sits among the best.

Score: EIGHT outta TEN