With audiences already well acquainted with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios bring two more characters from their roster of iconic heroes to the big screen this Summer, all whilst counting down the time until the release of their gargantuan super-powered team-up epic The Avengers next year. Whilst the release of Captain America: The First Avenger is still a few weeks away, the potentially difficult Thor marks the first true blockbuster of the Summer.
Of all the projects under Marvel Studios so far, Thor could easily have gone very wrong. Audiences are now completely desensitised to the standard ‘scientific-experiment-gone-wrong’ origin story of the majority of superheroes, and science-fiction in comic book films is commonplace. Thus, asking viewers to accept a decidedly geekier hero (Iron Man has a weaponised robotic suit, whereas Thor has a magical hammer called Mjolnir), with a setting rooted in Norse mythology alongside the aforementioned previously established heroes is a very different matter indeed. Luckily, Thor is a surging jolt of entertainment that may well rank as the Studio’s best effort yet.
In the realm of Asgard, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) readies his first-born son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to ascend to the throne, ahead of jealous younger brother Loki. When a security breach from ancient adversaries the Frost Giants halts the ceremony midway through, a rash and impulsive Thor retaliates, leading to his banishment from Asgard to present day Earth, where he finds an ally in scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
A particularly brave and inspired decision from Marvel was the choice of Kenneth Branagh to direct – the story, taking in sibling rivalry, betrayal and throne-envy, is aptly Shakespearean, and Branagh devotes enough time on character development to ensure that when the numerous action scenes arrive, which they most certainly do, you’ll genuinely care about the outcome. Luckily, he also knows how to direct a battle sequence or two – they are incredibly exciting, with an interesting variation on the same old superpowers we’re used to seeing. A particular highlight comes early on in a pulse-pounding fight between Thor and several Frost Giants.
Most impressively though, Branagh maintains a perfect tone throughout. Thor takes itself seriously when it needs to - you’ll invest in the characters, marvel at the breathtaking action sequences and be drawn into some of the weightier plot points. Yet its tongue is firmly in cheek when it wants to be, and the whole thing is tremendous fun. With several moments of well-judged laugh-out-loud humour, often courtesy of Sif and the Warriors Three, Thor is a film aware of its own potential silliness, and so never lets the grandiose scale of Asgard become laughably portentous.
In terms of scale, Thor feels huge - in the Marvel universe, it doesn’t get much more epic than Asgard and the Nine Realms, and the gorgeous art direction provides a truly otherworldly feel to proceedings.
In the lead role, newcomer Chris Hemsworth is extremely impressive, displaying not only gigantic biceps but decent acting chops, excellent comic timing and considerable charm that should see his Hollywood profile skyrocket. Portman takes it easy after her intense, jaw-dropping role in Black Swan, while Kat Dennings still proves to be an extremely watchable screen presence. Hopkins brings gravitas to the paternal Odin, whilst Idris Elba proves internet forum naysayers wrong as “Guardian of Worlds” Heimdall.
Those looking for tidbits and nods to Captain America and The Avengers will be glad to note the presence of SHIELD and brief appearance of Hawkeye, and, as ever with comic book films, be sure to catch the post-credits sequence.
In almost every way (except the poor 3D conversion, don’t bother), Thor is a triumph. It’s a loving adaptation of the comics, surprisingly accessible to mainstream audiences whilst also catering to the geek crowd. It looks fantastic, the action is exhilarating, and it has a funny and charming lead performance from Hemsworth. Yes, some may argue that Thor is merely a stepping stone to a much larger forthcoming cinematic event, but even if that is the case, it’s so damn entertaining that you won’t care while you’re watching it.
Entertainment Value: 4.5/5
Genre Value: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5