A car packed with scientists chases spiralling clouds of dust and a tornado from the heavens until – BANG – they hit a man. This isn’t the man that fell to earth but rather the Nordic Superhero who happens to be the God of Thunder. This is Thor.
Kicking off with the introduction to the mythology surrounding Asgard, Thor’s home world, director Branagh launches us into a battle with age-old enemies the Frost Giants. With Lord of the Rings inspired waste lands and spacial beauty to rival the worm holes and nebula of Wall-E and Star Trek, the mystical Nine Realms of the universe are fully recognised and an ambitious first for Marvel. The golden world of Asgard is particularly well done, the 3D conversion developing a good sense of depth and scope of the fantastical world.
It’s here that we are introduced to our titular hero. Building on his brief and memorable appearance in Star Trek as Kirk’s father, Chris Hemsworth is fantastic as Thor, channeling human sensibilities and the complexities surrounding his Godly nature. When we first meet him he is the arrogant, reckless soon-to-be King, ‘Nothing but a boy trying to prove himself a man’. Full of emotion and out to show his talents, his implied tendency to not think things through literally lands him his banishment from Asgard. On Earth he really shines, his confidence in himself defying the confused and amused cynical humans who don’t understand his mannerisms or speech. Cue a few humorous scenes where ‘nothing can defeat the mighty Thor!‘ except being hit by a car or having a sedative.
Hemsworth’s believable character development from arrogant to the self sacrificing, deserving hero is made all the better by his surrounding cast. Natalie Portman, playing the human scientist Jane Foster that Thor falls for (try saying that repetitively after a few drinks…), is good as the talented, career minded woman who just happens to fall in love and, refreshingly, wants to balance both. Supporting actors Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings provide the comic relief in the cynic believer who’s seeing his favourite childhood stories come to life and the research assistant along for the ride respectively. Dennings’s line ‘I totally know CPR’ will no doubt be used by many in relation to Hemsworth’s physique in the film…
Acting credentials also stretch to Asgard. Tom Hiddleston plays on director Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean influences as Thor’s mischievous broker Loki. Silver tongued and out to cause some trouble, Hiddleston delivers a performance that includes a good lesson in the art of how to act using your eyes. A scene between Loki and his father stands out in particular, Hiddleston going full throttle in an affecting moment. Anthony Hopkins also channels the Bard as Thor’s father whilst Rene Russo makes a fleeting appearance as his mother. Thor’s friends and fellow warriors provide a lot of fun. Described at one point as ‘Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood’, they prove to be Thor’s connection between Earth and Asgard bringing humour, pathos and some great action shots. Mention should also go to the filmmakers for managing to depict Thor’s beloved hammer Mjolnir as a character in itself and not just an object, rather like the Enterprise in Star Trek. When Mjolnir springs into gravity defying action there are some nasty hits and impressive thunderstorms.
As director, Branagh comes out well proving he was more than capable of handling the material. A surprise choice for some when announced by Marvel, he deftly mixes the reality of Earth and the fantasy of the universe without jarring effect, carefully blending the two where others have failed before.
Thor will return next in The Avengers, Marvel’s Superhero extravaganza due out next year, and there are a few references that the fans will love (uncredited appearances, a tantalising post credit sequence) setting up Thor’s role in the group. However, Branagh’s film is very much about Thor and its mythology with narrative set-ups for a possible sequel of its own clear from the end (a love triangle between Thor, Jane and Sif for one, adventures with fellow Asgardian warriors etc). With a rich mythological back story and the continuing success and popularity of film adaptations of comic properties, here’s hoping Hammer Time continues for a while…