Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Release Date: 27 April 2011 (UK)
Stewart R: There’s no doubting that cinema is in something of a lull at the moment with the number of bums on seats down year on year and signs that the industry is struggling to find new avenues and ideas to pursue. Despite terrific successes in recent years for DC with Christopher Nolan’s Batman efforts and Marvel with John Favreau’s Iron Man double there’s also occasional talk of the ‘Superhero Movie Bubble’ bursting at any second as we brace for the sound of a hefty budget being soundly flushed down the toilet. With 2011’s Summer schedule somewhat bloated on comic book adaptations and blockbusters, and with plenty of unknown actors and elements in play, there will have been fears that Thor, the curtain-raiser for the season, could be the first film racing past the U-bend. It is with a huge sigh of relief, a keen buzz in my brain and warm feeling in my chest that I can declare Thor the very high bar on which all other contenders will be judged these next few months.
Hemsworth plays the titular Asgardian God of Thunder who through certain reckless actions threatens his homeland with war and family with ruin. Cue two hours of high drama, thunder-powered action, well measured comedy and even the occasional burst of romance.
One of the keys to this film’s success is that it’s a superhero film without the requirement for the traditional origin story - Thor is a powerful warrior god of Asgard, son of King Odin, brother to Loki and that’s pretty much the situation from the get-go. This isn’t a film about how Thor gained his powers, it’s about how he gained a new perspective and ultimately changes as a man/god. To aid this Branagh and the various screenwriters ensure we get the briefest and most effective of history lessons on Asgard and the dangers that threaten it in the first quarter of the movie which brings the audience up to speed with surprising efficiency, allowing everyone to sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride. What follows amounts to a very heated, emotionally charged family feud and a journey of self-discovery that leads from Asgard to Earth and back again, sucking you in and pulling you along willingly with it.
Hemsworth is a triumph as the strong god in need of the softer touch, bristling with confidence one moment, brought low with grief and frustration the next and showing a keen feel for the subtler comedic edge that’s asked of him from time to time. Whether barking at the excellent Hopkins - here revelling in his best role for years - or slowly wooing Portman’s no-nonsense scientist Jane Foster on Earth, he’s clearly leading man material and definitely an actor for the future based on this performance. When the cocksure and overconfident Thor, Hiddleston as the silvertongued Loki, and Hopkins as the powerful-yet-weary Odin share a scene the tension and electricity feels like it’s leaping from the screen. Pride, petulance, love, seething rage, vanity - it’s a veritable feast of emotive acting that will be credited in part to Branagh’s direction due to his proven track record with previous literary conversions but also belongs to the trio of actors who seem to carry it off so effortlessly and with such conviction.
When the story moves to New Mexico the ‘fish out of water’ element is played to good effect without going too far, allowing the inevitable romance to subtlely play out between Thor and Foster with the occasional jokes creeping out of the woodwork for some neat laughs. There will be some who may feel that the slight shoehorning of S.H.I.E.L.D. into proceedings detracts a little from the main story and that just maybe not enough time is given to the fun to be had in the earthly desert setting, but I’m of the opinion that less is certainly more in this instance and nary a scene takes place that doesn’t add to the story as a whole. Branagh does well to cover so much within a two hour span - it flies past so effortlessly that to add anything more to the mix would have ruined its delightful balance.
This being a blockbuster and a film set for large periods in alien and fantastic worlds there’s obviously a big budget on show and the effects team have done a tremendous job of depicting Asgard in all its golden glory. From the glowing chamber of Odin, across the Rainbow Bridge and to the frozen wastes of Jotunheim, we’re taken on a breathtaking visual journey that adds to the epic feel of the story yet never overwhelms or loses the characters within it. Battle sequences are exhilarating, thunderous affairs that never outstay their welcome though I, and possibly some others, may question whether a viewing in 3D is truly necessary as its use is incredibly subtle - to the point of being unnoticeable in places - for much of the runtime.
From start to finish though this is an exciting, polished, well-acted, and most importantly, heart-warming superhero movie that stands up there as one of Marvel's best efforts to date. You’re all worthy, go see it, NOW! 9/10