Well here it is. The first big blockbuster movie of the summer and also my first new release movie review. Thor fans have waited a long time for his film adaptation and not only do we finally get to see Asgard on a cinema screen but we also get one step closer to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie due out next summer. So, here we go. Will Chris Hemsworth make a worthy Thor? Can Kenneth Branagh direct action? Will Anthony Hopkins look a little silly dressed head to toe in molded rubber? Click the jump to find out!
So first things to get out of the way for the start of this review. Yes it will be a little spoilery but I’ll avoid giving too much away. Yes there will be talk of the developments made in this film to lead towards The Avengers and yes this could be a long review. Maybe not Titanic 2 long, but long enough. So if you don’t want to be spoiled don’t go past the following image…
Thor is the 4th film in the new Marvel movie universe to build towards the biggest film of next summer, The Avengers. Might have mentioned that film already. Anyway, Thor is also one of marvels biggest tentpole stars and has, up to now, never had a big screen outing. Thor has always been a tricky proposal for a cinema release. Without making the world of Thor as grand as it needs to been he just comes across as goofy. Going the low budget route and having it set near entirely on Earth would likely result in a film that is more akin to the Masters Of The Universe movie, and we don’t need that again. So when the first scene of this film takes place on Earth in the desert you’d be forgiven that that is what we are getting. You’d be wrong.
The film opens with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and her crew of astro physicist chums chasing some sort of space based occurrence when they see something a whole lot larger. A giant funnel of light bursts through the clouds throwing dust all over the place and before they no what they’re heading for they drive into a man in the dust. they get out to see who they have hit and that’s it. that’s the end of the opening Earth sequence and we’re instantly dragged to a little backstory about the gods and how Odin (Anthony Hopkins) defeated the Frost Giants in Jotunheim many years before. We’re introduced to Asgard, the home of Odin and his civilisation of Norse gods and his sons Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Both are in line for Odins throne but only one can take that seat and it looks to be Thor. He has come back a hero from a successful battle and when on the verge of being crowned king trouble starts brewing. Frost Giants have gotten into the relic chamber below Odins court. Luckily for them they have the nigh indestructible Destroyer armour, a 15ft tall metallic figure that can disintigrate enemies in an instant. Thor wishes to get revenge, as does Loki but Odin forbids it.
This sequence sets up the events of the film quite effectively.We’re not just introduced to the characters of Thor’s world within 10 minutes but the history and some extremely spectacular views. Asgard is realised on an exceptionally grand scale, and while we don’t see many different areas of it, the sheer scale teases you into wondering what else is there. Thor and his band of warrior friends (Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun and Sif) are joined by Loki on a trip to Jotunheim in order to find out how the Frost Giants were able to infiltrate Asgard. Naturally Thors temper kicks off a spectacular fight sequence where we really see his powers at full tilt. It is quite rare for a origin superhero movie to start in such a manner. Usually we see the hero gradually learn their powers with the scale of the films encounters increasing as the story progresses. Thor though doesn’t have powers to learn as he is naturally a super powered being. His development is entirely character based. See Odin banishes Thor to Midgard (Earth) and strips him of his powers. Int he process he lays a spell on Mjolnir (Thors hammer) that would only allow a worthy person to wield it, and if they do they would gain Thor’s power.
This is where we catch up with the opening scene of the film, it’s that scene that was released online a few weeks ago that made people cringe at the awkward humour and tone. Honestly, it plays out one hell of a lot better here. It comes within minutes of both a massive scale action sequence and the principal cast have a big old bellowy argument scene. A little light humour at this point is certainly needed.
From here on the second act picks up with a mixture of action, light hearted humour and scenes of Jane Foster basically having a big old schoolgirl crush on Thor. It’s the simplicity of their romance that really helps this film. See the events of the film take place over the course of just a few days, and Thor’s character journey was already one that was gonna feel rushed in such a short time frame. The romance element with Jane is refreshing in that they aren’t getting all doe eyed at each over, she doesn’t need rescuing once and she’s a proactive character which is so rare in these films. It’s her lack of status as a damsel in distress that stops her from being as annoying as a Mary Jane and her proactivity that stops her being a clothes horse that talks like Rachel Dawes was in Batman Begins. She is a much more likable love interest and more believable as a result. Also the fact she’s Natalie Portman helps a lot too.
Hemsworth is a very good Thor too. Strong and powerful in action, goofy when comedy is needed and moody when someone needs to be threatened or put on edge. His character arc may feel a little rushed for the films time frame but he never stops being an enjoyable lead. His fish out of water moments aren’t hammered into the audience Crocodile Dundee style but when they do happen they hit home. Thor walking into a pet store and requesting a horse is hilarious. When told they only have birds, cats and dogs he just asks for one big enough to ride. Brilliant and it comes at just the right time. When it comes to the action scenes when he has his powers it’s all about the spectacle but when he’s stuck in human form on Earth it’s all about good old fashion arse kicking. he handles the fighting very well and it’s refreshing to an action sequence in a Marvel movie not be about how many things the main character can fly through. Kudos to Branagh for actually being a very good action director. I was actually expecting these scenes to fall flat.
Meanwhile back on Asgard, which is never too many scene’s away, Loki has discovered a dark secret about himself which fans of the comics will be aware of and his father Odin has gone into a coma like state known as Odinsleep. It’s a state he may not wake up from so Loki puts himself on the throne. Tom Hiddleston gives a very good performance, constantly dripping with conflict and inner turmoil which gradually gives way to crazed power madness as Loki begins to realise just how powerful he has become. Loki travels to Earth and tells a few fibs to Thor while he is captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. Loki tells Thor that Odin is dead and that he is now king and that Thor cannot return to Asgard as his exile is part of the truce with the Frost Giants. We see Loki and his silver tongued mischievous ways develop from being a negotiator at the start of the film to flat out manipulator by the end. he goes on as much of a journey as Thor does, albeit in the opposite direction. The character elements were always going to be Branaghs strongest elements.
Direction wise Branagh shows a great deal of competence with the action and the focus on character development for all the lead roles is something I would not have expected from may other directors. Especially to be paced as well as this was. He’s kind of made me wish he was direction The Avengers movie as I think his ability to handle multiple story arcs at once would have come in very handy there. It’s hard to tell if he is a fan or Thor beforehand or if he’s just very well read on the universe but either way there isn’t any real misstep along the course of the film. A few hiccups perhaps, a sequence where Thor’s buddies come to Earth to bring him back to Asgard does feel a little Masters Of The Universe, but even this sequence is handled with it’s tongue planted in it’s cheek at just the right depth to get away with it. Also the three worlds this film take place on all compliment each over very well.
Asgard is full of regality, giant golden buildings, huge canals and rivers and the sort of imagery that’s generally reserved for Star Wars/ Lord Of The Rings sized film events. it feels big and it looks like it’s own world. As does Jotunheim which, while we see a lot less of it, what we do see is dark, dangerous and cold in it’s feel. It looks like it was ripped from the cover of a Norwegian Black Metal album and the Frost Giants themselves are a pretty intimidating sight. The action on Earth takes place entirely in a small desert town. this is a very smart choice on the part of Branagh. the town not only juxtaposes the grandeur of Asgard but serves as a nice visual metaphor for Thor’s journey back to basics. He goes from being the mightiest being in the universe (possibly) on Asgard to being a mere mortal Human on Earth. He even gains a Earthen alias in the form of Dr Donald Blake. A nice nod to some of Thor’s alternate universe incarnations. This location also makes a welcome change from pretty much every single other super hero movie which take place in either New York city (or an appropriate facsimile) or some secret military base of some kind.
So what about The Avengers build up. Well Hawkeye makes possibly the most unnecessary cameo in movie history. He literally does nothing but aim at Thor and talk to agent Coulsen on a mic. Still, it’s pretty cool to see him on film and a nice way to let you know he’ll be with The Avengers from the start. I get the feeling they originally had a generic sniper aiming at Thor in that scene but when they signed Renner they quickly shoehorned him in. There’s a brief name drop to Tony Stark. And yes, there is a scene after the credits that probably does more to setup the enemy situation in The Avengers than any of the previous Marvel films have. Also, Heimdell being black means nothing so if you’re one of those guys that complained about that then grow up.
Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film. Characters are likable, the action is fun and the humour never grates once. Everything looks epic where it needs to be and small scale when a more subtle touch is required. Kenneth Branagh has possibly managed to put his foot in the door to become a real player in Hollywood’s powerhouse directors with this film proving he can direct something that’ll pull in crazy amounts of money. He doesn’t waste a single moment in the film. Remember that bit in the trailer with the facebook photo taking that looked like some poorly stuck in pop culture gag? It actually has a reason for happening. The photo Darcy takes is used to make a fake ID for Thor later in the film. How many other films would have just left that as a dumb little throw away gag? Not this film. I am now genuinely hyped for both Captain America later in the summer and The Avengers and I think after you get a chance to see it so will you. Also, I saw this in 2D because, from what I’ve heard, the 3D conversion isn’t that great and well… fuck 3D.