Holy shit! Thor is epic stuff, make no mistake about it.
Marvel Studio’s latest building block toward The Avengers is a true sight to behold and a fitting first chapter in the mighty Thor’s cinematic adventures. It leaps between worlds, features a giant robot blasting things into oblivion and a cameo or two that will get fan-boys even more pumped for next year’s superhero team-up. There are a few caveats and I’m not sure it topples the first Iron Man in terms of quality, but Thor emerges as one of the best comic book adaptations in recent memory.
The powerful but arrogant God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is cast out of the ethereal realm of Asgard by his impatient father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Sent to live amongst humans on Mid-gaurd (Earth), the hammer wielding behemoth must evade government cronies while coming to the aid of unlikely scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
Thor gets a lot of things right, starting with the cast. Relative unknown Hemsworth hits all the right notes in the title role, imbuing a larger-than-life figure with warmth and humour. His scenes with Portman are better than you’d expect and the Black Swan starlet manages to make the forced romantic sub-plot bearable. Such casting brings credibility to the film, aided by Hopkins, whose classically-trained style is just what a picture like this required. The supporting cast is enormous and well-chosen, including Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s petulant brother Loki and Clark Gregg, who returns to the role of agitated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson with aplomb.
Only Ket Dennings, as Jane’s sarcastic friend Darcy disappoints. A beautiful woman, she is nevertheless wasted in a nothing part that gives her little to do and exists only to offer a few lame puns. Well, OK, the moment where she uses a Taser on the God of Thunder is pretty funny.
Director Kenneth Branagh has stated that he was drawn to The Mighty Thor as a child, despite little interest in comic strips. Such adoration shows, as the movie is a faithful recreation of the source material in every way. It must be said that Branagh is a peculiar choice to helm a comic book picture – even one based on Norse mythology – but it signifies Marvel’s bold choices of late, following Jon Favreau and to a lesser-extent Louis Leterrier. As it turns out, the director of Henry V was the perfect pick for Thor, and he brings a grandiose sense of wonderment to the scenes on Asgard. Branagh uses the special effects in ways that benefit the narrative, not just the senses.
On the topic of CGI, it is easily the best in a Marvel Studios production to date; detailed and awe-inspiring if not always seamless. Asgard feels like a living, breathing place despite its pixelated construction. The effects are also put to staggering use in the action sequences, including an early skirmish in the frozen lands of Jotunheim, giving Thor plenty of opportunities to use his trusty Mjolnir. This section of the film is suitably bombastic and ends up being Thor‘s action highlight.
What might surprise some viewers is the scarcity of the set-pieces, and the film ultimately leaves you wanting more on that front. A battle late in the film between Thor and oversized tinker-toy The Destroyer offers a bevy of explosions and earth-shattering heroics, but feels oddly anti-climactic. Yet, it is to Thor‘s credit that it becomes more than just another special effects showcase and long-time fans of the character are sure to walk away satisfied. It is a film that could have easily slipped into camp in the wrong hands and Branagh manages to fuse decades of comic continuity to a story that feels Shakespearian in breadth with alarming ease.
There’s plenty here for Marvel aficionados to appreciate, frequently referencing the larger universe at play and introducing Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in an all-too-brief cameo. If these things mean nothing to you, don’t worry: They will when The Avengers hits in 2012. Until then, we have July’s Captain America: The First Avenger to look forward to, and if it’s half as good as Thor we should be in for a treat.
Oh, and make sure you stay after the credits.