All of Marvel Comics’ ancient mythology titles (Thor, Hercules, Submariner) are camp classics that bode ill for movie adaptations. It takes class and material with depth to pull off a comic-book movie, which is why so few work – Nolan’s Batman, the Blade series and errr… the rest are mostly risible.
Ken Branagh – yes, the Shakespeare guy – pulls off a majestic, high-concept, high-art and knowingly ludicrous Thor, steeped in Norse mythos as well as the comics, with charismatic rising star Chris Hemsworth holding the screen through his exiled hero’s journey to humility. Meanwhile stunts veteran Vic Armstrong (Bond) and his second-unit team blow the bejesus out of poor old New Mexico, Asgard and Jottenheim in stylish action sequences.
You can probably tell this uncompromisingly silly stuff won me over for sheer bravura.
With a production design any Wagner Ring Cycle would kill for, Thor is an impressive CGI-fest of galaxies, worm-holes, Juttenheim and Asgard, flying gods, a fire-breathing armoured Destroyer and a horde of Frost Giants. Ever more extravagant costumes meld Dragon-Con with cos-play night at Studio 54.
Plundering the Norse source material with conflict aplenty built right in (the story developed by sci-fi scion J. Michael Strazinsky), Branagh delivers an epic of Wagnerian scale. This is Thor as family drama, with more than a touch of soap opera – Branagh directs real operas and it pays off here. The opening clunks a little between the present day and shoehorning in a huge chunk of backstory; after that, Branagh varies the pace enough to give light and shade to what could have been one long over-the-top demolition derby (Transformers and ‘McG’ take note).
The likeable Hemsworth carries you through the silliness of the script, ably aided by Stellan Skarsgaard’s conveniently Scandinavian physicist, Idris Elba (Hemdal the Guardian) and the excellent Tom Hiddleston, whose version of Loki ‘the Trickster’ stays credible to the end. Which is more than can be said of Thor’s frat-pack of Asgardian warriors (including token girl Jaime Alexander), or of Natalie Portman’s scientist Jane Foster; I don’t think poor Portman had any idea how to bounce back from the loopy Black Swan or the execrable Your Highness. Sir Anthony Hopkins makes an imposing Odin, the All-father king of the gods, although it seems Hopkins hasn’t believed in the business of acting since Silence of the Lambs. My favourite, Rene Russo plays Frigga and ever reliable Colm Feore is unrecognisable as Laufey, king of the Frost Giants.
What is getting irritating is the plot-laying by the studio for the upcoming Marvel Avengers movie, so we get the SHIELD Agents trying and failing to make the US government look like the good guys.
It’s a thrilling mash-up of comic books, cod-mythology, action, humour and mild peril with no real blood. Branagh has ducked out of Thor II, which is a shame; I think I’ll covet this one for a while. RC
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich
Genre: Action, adventure
Certification (UK): 12A
Running time: 114 mins
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Jeremy Renner, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson