The Thor movie is out now in the UK, and our British correspondent Punchy swings his mighty review hammer to summon the power of critical thought!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo and Clark Gregg
Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures
I'm not a big fan of Marvel Comics' take on Thor. I've never read Walt Simonson's run, I've never read Dan Jurgens' run, I haven't even read JMS' recent run. So I may not be the person best suited to review Kenneth Branagh's movie adaptation of the character. Perhaps a real Thor die-hard would hate the movie, I don't know. But even though my knowledge of the Odin-son is limited to the current Matt Fraction run and his role as a member of the Avengers, I have to say that I really enjoyed Thor and would even go as far as to say that it is the best Marvel Universe movie so far -- better even than Iron Man.
I don't really want to spoil the movie for you, so there will be no long plot summary. Basically, the film is set in two realms. The first being Asgard, home of the Norse Gods -- although the movie leans closer to the idea that the Asgardians are in fact aliens who travelled to Earth in the Viking era, than actual Gods. This may just be there to appease Jesus Freaks, but I felt the movie did a good job of striking a balance between magic and science. The sweeping vistas over Asgard are beautiful . Asgard just looks awesome. In Asgard, we follow Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he is about to be crowned King by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), when the evil Ice Giants attack. Thor foolishly leads his friends, The Warriors Three (Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun, played by Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas and Tadanobu Asano respectively), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Jotunheim, home of the Ice Giants to find out how the got into Asgard. This... doesn't go well, and Thor is exiled to Earth.
On Earth (or Midgard, if you prefer), Thor runs into a group of scientists, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their assistant Darcie (Kat Dennings). Thor is stuck as a human and needs to find a way to get back to Asgard, defeat the Ice Giants, and untangle the web of lies spun by Loki.
Both realms are done really well, although I personally felt that the sequences set on Earth are a lot more fun. Kat Dennings as Darcie is a particular highlight. The scenes set in Asgard are a bit too serious, a bit too Shakespearean -- although if anyone can make Shakespearean stuff exciting, it's Branagh. Besides, the appeal of Thor is the clash of these two worlds. Chris Hemsworth does a really good job of playing the two sides of Thor: the angry, reckless Prince in Asgard, and the possibly crazy nutjob on Earth. For an actor in his first really major role, he really takes centre-stage. And I can see him fitting in just fine alongside Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Samuel L Jackson in The Avengers.
The other actors are all strong, too. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is a revelation; he plays the vulnerability of the character as well as the cruel side, making him a truly sympathetic villain. I've always preferred Loki when the focus is on him as a trickster rather than as someone who's truly evil, and Hiddleston gets that side. Not until the very final scenes are you sure what Loki's motivation actually is. For a film that on the surface is so epic, the crux of the story is actually really small and relatable: it's about the relationship between the brothers Thor and Loki, and their relationship with Odin. There is always a risk with godly characters that they'll lack three-dimensional personalities, but Branagh really makes them interesting and complex.
But that's not to say the film isn't epic. The action scenes are some of the best I've seen in a while. Thor smashing Frost Giants and the Destroyer is just amazing, and whenever he uses his Hammer... your breath is taken away. It's a great action film as well as a great story.
Of course, this being Hollywood, there has to be a romantic element, and Thor's relationship with Jane Foster is a strong part of it. It's not a major part of the film, but it is done very well. Natalie Portman is obviously not in her Black Swan craziness here, but she does play a fun character whose innate goodness and curiosity shows Thor how to be worthy enough to lift the Hammer. I feel that the movie could have worked a bit harder at having Sif be part of a love triangle, but there's enough going on anyway, and it's actually more refreshing to have Sif just be one of the guys.
So Thor pretty much has it all: it's got action, it's got great drama, and it's got a sense of fun. I think whatever you're looking for in a blockbuster, Thor has it.
And what many comic book fans want are references to the Marvel Universe and hints for the upcoming Avengers movie. Like the comics, these movies don't stand alone and they have multiple connections to other Marvel films (especially Iron Man). SHIELD plays a big role in the plot, and Clark Gregg once again shows up as Agent Phil Coulson. There are references to a scientist who was investigating Gamma Radiation and then disappeared. And then there's the big one: SPOILER ALERT... Hawkeye is in this movie. Jeremy Renner has a nice little cameo as the Avengers' marksman. He does a great job of getting across Clint Barton's character in the small time he's given, although the character is never actually referred to as Hawkeye, and it may be confusing to non-comics readers as to why they cast a biggish name in Renner for such a short role. But, of course, he'll be back. END OF SPOILER.
One nice touch is that the credits end with a statement saying, "Thor will return in The Avengers," which sort of blows my mind. It makes the Avengers movie seem real, and reminds me of the old James Bond movies. Can we hope to get 22 Avengers movies? Probably not. Speaking of the credits, as always, remember to stay for them, as the post-credits sequence features not only Samuel L . Jackson as Nick Fury, but also a certain Cube of Cosmic proportions well-known from the comics.
Oh yeah, and both Stan Lee and J. Michael Straczynski get cameos. Keep an eye out.
The Marvel movie-verse continues to grow and get better and better. Thor is one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a while, and I can't wait to see where we go from here. Bring on Captain America!
Review by: Niam Suggitt