Reviewed by 06-May-11

Okay, let me get it out of my system; one of this movie’s greatest assets is the eye-popping physique of its star, Chris Hemsworth. This particular god would be the answer to more than one moviegoer’s prayers, as he’s spectacularly three-dimensional before you even put on the glasses.

thor-movie-poster-04PHWOAR, GOD OF THUNDER!

Okay, let me get it out of my system; one of this movie’s greatest assets is the eye-popping physique of its star, Chris Hemsworth. This particular god would be the answer to more than one moviegoer’s prayers, as he’s spectacularly three-dimensional before you even put on the glasses.

All that – plus, the boy can act! Given his previous CV was for Aussie soaps, who’d ever have suspected?

But setting Hemsworth’s pecs aside (a challenging job, but if they’re looking for volunteers… no, it’s okay – stamps foot, shakes head – I’m gonna be sensible now), if all this movie had had to offer was man-candy, it’d be nothing more than a furtive guilty pleasure. But director Kenneth Branagh has assembled a cast of skilled and dextrous players who invest even the minor roles with true insight into their characters.

After an ill-judged raid into the Frost Giants’ realm, Thor, heir apparent to the throne of Asgard, is cast down to Earth and stripped of his godly powers for defying Big Daddy Odin and breaking a long-standing treaty.  Landing in New Mexico, he’s bumped into (literally) by astrophysicist Jane Foster, who, together with her two colleagues Stuffy and Perky (not their names, but it’s how you’ll always think of them) is eventually intrigued into helping determine whether the visitor is merely a beautiful and charismatic Care-In-The-Community case, or something much more. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki, the one who provoked Thor’s actions, schemes to take over Odin’s throne.

Chris HStripped to its barest elements, that’s the plot, but the layers of visual and narrative texture are astonishing; Asgard and the Frost Giants’ realm are awe-inspiring, Bifrost breathtaking, and the entirely CGI’d Destroyer a wonder to behold.

But we’ve all seen “Faberge Egg” movies before – glittering shells with no content. This film has content in abundance, with a strong central plot, intelligent scripting and surprisingly nuanced performances.

Director Branagh shows an unexpectedly light touch; the portentous nature of the story could become overwhelming, but he leavens the angst and foreboding with wit and charm, unforced humour generated by the characters’ interactions.  Branagh also eschews, except in purely ceremonial scenes, the cod-Shakespearean tone to the Asgardian’s dialogue. The Norse Gods speak more formally than the American characters, yes, but the comic’s “Thous” and “Shalts” are wisely kept to a minimum, giving the Asgardians’ interactions a refreshing vitality, especially in the scenes between Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three (well, two of the three, but we’ll get to that), where a genuine comradeship seems evident.

Of the performances, Hemsworth’s is the standout, as Thor transforms from arrogant princeling to bewildered refugee, conveying the hero’s learning journey with subtlety and warmth; Jane Foster, thank god, is given a job, a life, and a dramatic function other than just establishing the hero’s heterosexuality, in the capable hands of Natalie Portman; Anthony Hopkins – who’s pretty much been phoning it in for the last decade or so – appears genuinely interested in his portrayal of Odin, radiating love, disappointment, and the weariness of an immortal king; and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is superb, especially in the early scenes where he pulls Thor’s strings under a guise of empathy and friendship.

The supporting cast, also, manages to shine even when given very little to work with. Idris Elba’s Heimdall blows away the controversy of his casting with a truly monumental gravity; Josh Dallas is note-perfect as Fandral, straight out of an Errol Flynn flick; Jamie Alexander’s Lady Sif is credibly ferocious and conveys her unrequited longing for Thor without a single scripted word; and Ray Stevenson transcends the Lee/Kirby Volstagg, establishing his stature as a warrior without losing the Falstaffian overindulgence.

In the entire cast, there are only two misfires. Rene Russo, as the un-named Queen of Asgard, does nothing with her one real scene. She’s turned in much better work when her mind wasn’t clearly elsewhere. And while I’m all for multi-ethnic casting, Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun is difficult to comprehend, with at least one important line mis-delivered, something that should’ve been caught in editing at the very least. Plus, he’s too prone to smiling; the character’s full title, after all, is “Hogun the Grim”, not “Hogun the Surprisingly Chirpy, All Things Considered”.

Those are very minor cavils, however, and easily overlooked in a dazzling spectacle that offers both style and substance. Thor is far from being my favourite Marvel character, but this film, by a very long way, is easily my favourite Marvel Comics movie adaptation. See it, or I shall smite thee mightily!

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7 responses to “Thor”

  1. Peter Campbell says:

    “Phwwoar, God of Thunder”?? Never again will I read the phrase “Thor will smite you with his mighty hammer” with quite the same mindset.

    Of all the Marvel movies, this was the one with the most potential to be a campy farrago, but the reviews have been almost universally positive. Who would have thought that Kenneth Branagh had it in him to make a decent blockbuster film?

    • Will Morgan says:

      Oh, oh! “Carry On Up The Rainbow Bridge!” Let’s see, Babs Windsor’s still alive, so she can have a guest cameo as Queen Frigga – wouldn’t even have to change the name – but we’d have to draw the rest of the cast from Enders & Corrie I guess. Still…

  2. “unforced humour generated by the characters’ interactions”

    I say thee yes! I think we’re supposed to imagine Thor has been dimly aware of goings-on down on Earth, but up until now hasn’t deigned the matter with much attention. So when he marches straight down the street, he kind of knows what cars are, but he still naturally assumes they’ll get out of his regal way.

    ” while I’m all for multi-ethnic casting”

    While I wouldn’t want to see Asgard as a white power rally, I have to say the silly Benniton-ad attempts to paint the place as an equal opportunities employer did grate with me.

    “Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is superb”

    I may have been less… um… distracted than you, and it’s not unusual in a film like this for the villain to be the stand-out character, but I thought Hiddleston was the show-stealer. It’s the way he’s both cunningly manipulative and agonized. To think he was last seen in the vastly different ’Archipelago’!

    ”Who would have thought that Kenneth Branagh had it in him to make a decent blockbuster film?”
    I’m amazed he could make a decent film at all! I think I might have found the overall plot more predictable than you (another ****ng atonement with the father story!), but I’d agree it’s serviceable enough.

    ” Thor is far from being my favourite Marvel character.”

    Oh on-line film reviewer, thou speakest for thy fellows! After the disappointing third helpings of both the X and Spider franchises, I had assumed we were into diminishing returns for Marvel movies overall. But two of my least favourite major-league Marvel characters, first Iron Man and now Thor, have led to surprisingly good film versions. (I am not going to see any impending Spiderwoman, Champions or Nova flicks, however.)

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