Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thor

Thor, son of Odin, prepares to ascend to the throne of Asgard from his father, above his jealous brother Loki. However, after an attempted invasion by Frost Giants, Thor travels to Jotunheim to even the score, against his father's wishes. Odin, as to punish his son for his insolence and stupidity in bringing war to Asgard, strips Thor of his powers, banishes him to Earth and places a curse of his hammer so that it may only be wielded by those who are worthy. Upon his arrival on Earth, he meets Jane Foster and her team of scientists, who attempt to find out where he came from. However, as Odin falls into 'Odinsleep', Loki seizes the throne and begins to plot Thor's demise. Can Thor reclaim his powers and return to Asgard to stop his brother's evil plot?

With every passing year, the likelihood of the next big cinema release being a superhero film becomes increasingly likely. It all started with X-Men back in 2000, and as that franchise took off, more and more characters in the Marvel and DC Universes were optioned and turned into potential franchises. There's been the good (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man), the bad (Spider-Man 3, Hulk, Elektra) and the downright ugly (Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk). Finally, here in 2011, Thor is given his chance to shine as we come towards the Avengers film everyone's been waiting for next year. So what exactly can Thor offer that we haven't seen before a hundered times before? Well, how about something a little Shakespearian?

Yes. A Shakespearian superhero film. Well, it might not have been in anyone else's hands, but Kenneth Branagh brings all the experience of making Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and various other big screen adaptations of the bard's work into a Marvel franchise film, and for whatever reason, it fits in perfectly with the scenes set in Asgard. The Norse gods' dialogue and behaviourisms, the grandiose setting... It works! Then, when Thor comes to Earth and the action happens there between the fish-out-of-water Norse god and the exasperated human scientists, the dialogue becomes far more down to Earth (pun intended) and is even funny at times. The contrast between the two realms is very well observed and differentiated, and Branagh's done very well. For the most part. What annoyed me about this film (though it didn't ruin my viewing experience) is Branagh's insistence on differentiating between the two realms by having rather fine classical camera set-ups and shots while on Asgard, but using an absolute f*** load of Dutch tilts. I'm guessing it's done to make the shots on Earth look more like a comic book since there's nothing particularly interesting about the backdrop in comparison to Asgard, but the film overkills on the Dutch tilts and comes dangerously close to resembling Battlefield Earth. Close, but not quite: Thor, at least, has a coherent plot and dialogue.

As far as the acting performances go, Chris Hemsworth never really needed to be a great deliverer of dialogue to play Thor, he just needed to be hench. And he is, he looks like a Norse god with the long blonde hair and the height and the henchness, so that's him pretty much covered. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is convincingly evil enough to be Thor's polar opposite, it's no Heath Ledger Joker villain, but the role didn't demand something like that, it needed subtlety and a quiet, resentful evil and it comes across well on screen. Anthony Hopkins is a legend who doesn't need a hack like me praising or criticising him, so I'll just say he was good. Natalie Portman doesn't put in an Oscar-worthy performance but plays the exasperated scientist well enough to carry the film through to its conclusion. Stellan Skarsgård is a pretty cool piece of casting for Portman's colleague, and does his thing pretty well, plus it's nice to see Kat Dennings in a major motion picture after she seemed to disappear after Nick and Norah. Also, Edris Elba is a boss, absolutely ice cool and has a hell of an on-screen presence.

I'd like to be able to call this Marvel's Superman: A man born with these godlike powers, sent to Earth by his family, able to fly. It's not Superman though. Nowhere near. Thor is a nice enough superhero film ,but it seems like the only reason they've made this film is so that he can make his appearance in the Avengers film. That's probably also the reason why Jeremy Renner shows up in a Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye cameo, complete with crossbow. It's also the reason why, in the no-longer-a-surprise Marvel standard post-credits scene, Samuel L. Jackson AKA Nick Fury turns up to talk to Stellan Skarsgård (plus Loki) in something which seems more like a set-up to a Thor sequel rather than a link to another upcoming Marvel film franchise (ala how Iron Man 2's post-credit set-up Thor). It's weird but sometimes change is good. Other than that, the origin story is rushed through and the film jumps straight into its main plot, which is refreshingly different. Instead of Thor becoming Thor, Thor is immediately Thor and jumps into his battle with Loki over the 100 minutes. I say thank god that despite seeming destined to be 'just another comic book adaptation', this was actually different, especially different for a Marvel film.

In conclusion, Thor is nicely done and refreshingly different and may just have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the genre after ploughing through so many run-of-the-mill superhero films in the last couple of years. It looks goddamn beautiful, especially the scenes in Asgard which have wonderfully created. If only Branagh could have laid off the Dutch tilts, it would have been a really easy film to watch, but then maybe I'm over-analysing things. It sets up the Thor character nicely for the Avengers film and leaves the door wide, wide open for a potential sequel. It's not fantastic, but it's nicely done and it impressed me. I feel bad for The Green Lantern now, it doesn't look too good anyway but now it has to follow this? Uh-oh.

Rating: ***1/2