Certificate: 12A
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Country: USA

There’s seemingly little that can stop the Stan Lee Marvel machine at the moment as it moves towards cinematic world domination.  The God of Thunder is the latest comic book hero to get the big screen treatment as we get ever closer to Joss Whedon’s Avengers film.  So far we have had two Iron Man films and if you discount Ang Lee’s outing (which most people do) one Incredible Hulk adaptation that have put the first stitches into the Avengers quilt and with Captain America still to come there’s even more set up for arguably what’s due to be the biggest comic book adaptation of all time.

When Asgard is infiltrated by the frost giants on the day on Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) inauguration as king the initial reaction is to take the fight to them in order to prevent any future breach of security.  Odin (Anthony Hopkins) having seen and been exhausted by war against the frost giants is more reluctant to turn the realms into a battlefield and orders no such action.  Ignoring his father and taking the fight to King Laufey (Colm Feore) and his men Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth as a mortal with his hammer charmed to answer to “one worthy enough to wield it”.  Down and out in New Mexico our hero comes across a group of scientists lead by Portman (as Jane Foster) and so begins the journey to redemption and ultimately stop a coup in Asgard.

Many fans of the comic book would have wore the same puzzled expression when learning that their favourite superhero was going to get the big screen treatment thanks to thespian Kenneth Branagh as he’s not the first director you would even consider for such a film.  However it seems like a perfect, if not slightly odd, marriage.  Thor has at it’s heart of the narrative very Shakespearian narrative devices at work and at points is not too far away from being a once removed adaptation of Coriolanus with ideas of loyality, power and betrayal all key elements of the story.  As director, you can’t fault Branagh’s vision behind the camera.  With the Marvel studio plus CGI labs behind him, has been able to bring to life not just Stan Lee’s interpretation of Thor but also the stories he would have been told as a child and pays tribute to the mythology with the casting of the always excellent Stellan Skarsgard (as Erik Selvig) is able to ground the legend of Thor in a context that is accessible by all.

The overall aesthetic of the film is extremely strong, the exuberant Asgard with it’s palace and bio-frost is glorious and a wonderful contrast to the muted desert tones of New Mexico and it’s low rise properties.  The battle between the frost giants and Asgardians (which led to Thor’s exile) is wonderfully shot, with strong CGI and is very well choreographed and assembled.  It can sometimes be tricky for a director not well versed in action to piece together a chaotic fight sequence that allows the audience to see enough to follow; many audiences had issue with Nolan’s fight sequences in Batman Begins for just this reason.  The score to the film was competant enough, like the cinematography it was conservative and sat comfortably within the confines of the genre though at time was a little too similar in tone and pacing to that of the signature score from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and because of this was a little distracting in parts.

Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) does a solid enough job, he was neither great nor terrible.  At points he flirted with becoming a little too comic book but his speech and gesturality all screamed of what we imagine the God of Thunder would be if we ever encountered him.  Portman, having just won an Oscar, was something of a disappoint though that could be largely due to the script as there was little in the role for her that was anything other than exposition or playing to Thor’s narrative.  Same to be said, unfortunately, for Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings who’s comedy timing and screen presence was the only thing that prevented her appearance in the film from being completely forgotten.  Anthony Hopkins (as Odin) like Hemsworth gives a solid performance and played the role in a very Shakespearian way which was great to see but unfortunately the content wasn’t there to back up such a heavy weight actor.  He did, however, have more to do than Rene Russo (the Queen) who was under utilised and if you consider the fact that they had such a rich narrative with such Shakespearian elements laced throughout is a real missed opportunity.  Hiddleston (as Loki) is good value throughout and matches his brothers brawn with a guile and intelligence that is needed in the role unfortunately the script lets down Loki’s intelligence as the character arcs and plot twists are all extremely run of the mill and are telegraphable a good mile away before occurring.

Without doubt the two most enjoyable performances are that of Colm Feore (as the frost giant king Laufey) and Idris Elba (Heimdall – the Gatekeeper).  Both actors have enjoyed successful careers until now without reaching the heights of Hopkins and Russo and do so much more with the little they are given.  It would be criminal not to mention Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) who faithfully pops up again but the more you see of him the more you realise that he’s little more than a linch pin that holds the worlds of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor together so that the inevitable Avengers film doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch.

For all their output Marvel are yet to produce a Superhero film that’s anything other than cheap.  Narratively there is little difference between Iron Man (1 and 2), The Incredible Hulk and Thor they all contain the same issues, same plot twists and same problems.  As a film, especially a comic book film, there’s a degree of suspension of disbelief that must be accepted in order to buy into the story but that can only stretch so far.  There’s no issue with mythological gods, giant fire breathing robots or other realms but there is an issue with weak story telling and the one unbelievable narrative stretch in Thor is the love story.  The relationship between Thor and Jane is so under developed and ‘stuck on’ that Thor’s revelation of character is completely laughable and clearly fault of the writing.

Joss Whedon will clearly be able to resolve these issues as his television writing on Buffy, Angel, Firefly and (the shamefully cancelled too early) Dollhouse proves.  However he will be faced with an even greater problem.  If there are issues with the balance of the narrative in a Superhero film featuring one Superhero then how is he going to be able to balance a narrative against a series of action packed set pieces with at least four different heroes all requiring their own screen time, character development, conflict and most likely love interests?

Before the screening of Thor the only comic book films that have been worthwhile watching in recent years have been Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Batman installments…nothing happened during those 114 minutes to change that.


Dawniepants said...

I like this. One of the problematic issues with Thor was the sheer dislocation between the narratives in New Mexico and Asgaarde. Obviously Thor is abandoned but with such half focus on both places neither really 'works'.

Unfortunately this leads to Portman just being absurd, and the mechanics of their relationship completely nonsensical. The Shakesepearean overtones of the Palace kind of remind me of Shakespeare's King John. But the problem is the dialectics of the two places are so different that their only cohesion is the half assed characterisation of Thor in New Mexico.

Having thought about it I think one of the primary issues with the film was that neither world was able to be fully developed, especially the New Mexico segment even though seemingly a lot of the action happened there. The audience were left with no sense really as to any development in character relations. So what is left is a Shakespearean fantasy in the clouds and an odd episode of Roswell down on earth. It is the lack of cohesion that tears this film apart.

There is also the issue of the New Mexico narrative, what is its purpose? Well seemingly its to make Thor a whole shiny new caring person, which it does with spookily rapid skill. The speed of which can only be matched by the speed with which academic Portman becomes a dribbling idiot over big brawny spaceman Thor. Yes its a comic book, but surely the human characters can be recognisable no?

One can argue that perhaps Brannagh tried to do too much, the Palace scenes were sumptuous and the audience craved for more from Hopkins, and in sharp juxtaposition the New Mexico scenes were sparse. The audience craved more, the common genre of 'fish out of water' is beloved by an audience and the small comedic elements which are used briefly when Thor arrives aren't really dealt with again. A true waste. Perhaps Brannagh is more comfortable with Shakespeare? A smarter thing might have been to try and cut down some of the narrative of Asgaarde (which would have been a shame) and focus further on Thor's journey. Or make the film longer.

Entertaining but a wasted vehicle.

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