In the Norse-like, trans-dimensional realm of Asgard, arrogant Thunder God Thor (Hemsworth) is about to be crowned King. However, after leading a reckless attack against an old enemy race, his all-powerful father Odin (Hopkins) takes his powers and casts him down to Earth as punishment. Found by an astrophysicist (Portman), Thor begins to learn humility, whilst his brother Loki (Hiddleston) manipulates events to place himself on the throne…
When Thor was first announced, you had to question how on Asgard it could work. After all, the big blond avenger isn’t some relatable everyman who gets special powers by accident – he’s a flying God from another dimension who controls lightning with an enchanted hammer. While Marvel are busy positioning all the necessary players for 2012′s mega-team, crossover flick The Avengers (which unites Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor and others), this was easily their biggest hurdle. Was it too fantastical to translate? Could the guy from Home And Away pull off the titular role? Was Shakespearian-specialist Kenneth Branagh the right choice as director? And would our hero ponce about with a helmet that had little wings on it? Thankfully, the answers are: no, definitely, for the most part and happily not.
Whilst not on par with Marvel’s best comic adaptations to date, there’s certainly a lot to like about Thor. Being brutally honest, as an origin story it isn’t particularly original; nor is it the barnstorming belter on par with Iron Man that the trailer had us quietly hoping for. But yet, it’s a fun and well-handled introduction to a character that many of us thought would’ve been more suited to an out-and-out fantasy like Lord Of The Rings, as opposed to something set in the ‘real world’.
Wisely opening on Earth with Thor’s X-Files type arrival in a dark New Mexican desert, Branagh ensures we’re interested before diving into a 30-minute stint in Asgard. From here, the vibe and balance between the two locations plays out much like Superman or Masters Of The Universe, with all the sweeping fantastical vistas offset by dusty, small American towns. The Asgardian realm itself is suitably epic, avoiding the Flash Gordon camp many were worried about, while the creepy, red-eyed Frost Giants aren’t nearly as silly as they sound (really, they’re not).
Shame then that it’s dragged down by far too much inter-dimensional too-ing and fro-ing via the beautifully-realised rainbow bridge. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but here characters jump between dimensions like they’re popping next door to visit a neighbour. Take note Marvel men, sometimes less is more.
In the director’s chair, Kenneth Branagh was another somewhat eyebrow-raising choice like John Favreau or Sam Raimi, but you never get the sense he’s out of his depth. Of course, whilst we assume that Marvel brought in their usual tech guys to handle the actiony, CGI-stuff, all the best scenes in Thor are those which are so obviously Branagh’s. Father-son quarrelling, jealous sibling rivalries, a Machiavellian plot to dethrone the King – you can see why the Shakespeare expert was chosen.
And although the trailer suggested that Anthony Hopkins might chew scenes up and swallow them whole (“I now take from you, your POWER!”), the former Hannibal is actually a perfect fit, neatly providing the super Dad gravitas. Also clearly relishing the stage-like drama is the stage-trained Tom Hiddleston, whose performance as layered villain Loki is arguably the best thing about the picture. Bar of course Hopkins’ groovy-eye patch.
Arguably being the key word, since Chris Hemsworth hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Known to most for his one scene as Kirk’s father at the start of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, Hemsworth is just the right level of unknown and an inspired choice. He not only looks the part (all fair-hair, beard and imposing physicality), but delivers on the dramatic front (see the rain-soaked hammer-denial) and nails all the potentially-cliched fish-out-of-water humour (smashing coffee cups, demanding horses). True, his God Of Thunder is on Earth far too short a time to be humbled and learn important life lessons, yet this star-in-the-making pulls off the emotional arc.
What brings the movie down though is how rushed it feels at times. No doubt, the story certainly takes the right angle for sure (having Thor sent to Earth de-powered is the ideal way to deal with his near-invulnerability), but there’s a nagging sense that lots of character and story scenes were cut to cater for the impatient cinema-goers. Rene Russo has about four lines of dialogue, at no point are any of the Asgardian’s abilities made clear to non comic-fans and the central ‘love story’ is so underdeveloped that it’s not really accurate to call it a love story. This carries over to the cast too, as although Kat Denning’s sarcastic assistant is constantly amusing, for all the underdeveloped Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård have to do, they could’ve been condensed into one part.
As for the fanboy-pleasing moments, there’s the usual Stan Lee Cameo, one or two sly nods to the comics (catch the Donald Blake reference?), the now-expected post-credits Avengers sequence and - most geekily exciting of all – Jeremy Renner’s unbilled cameo as ace-archer Hawkeye. Cynics could complain that all this crowds the movie, but at least the Marvel movers and shakers have learned from Iron Man 2 not to let them dominate the story.
Not a spectacular achievement to rival the likes of Iron Man, but far from the disaster it could’ve been.