Next year we will be treated to the Marvel Superhero team up movie, The Avengers, all of which have had introductory solo outings. We’ve had The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and soon to be Captain America. All heroes that were fairly well-known to begin with and ones that have, or looked to have been done, with a certain degree of reality within them. Thor has to be the hardest superhero to take seriously out of the lot of them. He isn’t a man who had an accident, or a super serum or a millionaire who can develop his own utilities. He is a God. A man from another dimension. A man told of in mythology. Who lives in a land which has a rainbow road. Hard for anyone, even the most budding comic-book and movie enthusiast to take seriously. So, how do you translate that successfully into film? Well, you make it big, you make it grand, and you bring it down to Earth. But most importantly, you make it fun. That’s what Marvel and director Kenneth Branagh have set out to achieve. And for the most part, they have succeeded.

The story allows for two very definitive plot lines, one that takes place on the fantastical home world of Thor, and on Earth. The action is kept largely separate, par one action scene which features a rather large cross-over. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is a young and arrogant warrior who abuses his power and does not respect the ruling of his father, the King of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). This disrespect, and a slight nudge from his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), leads to Thor going against his fathers orders and heading into the realm of the Frost Giants, sparking off an ancient war between them and the people of Asgard. For this, Thor is banished to Earth and made to live as a mortal until he learns what it takes to wield the power of Thor. However, whilst stuck on Earth, Loki goes about taking over the throne of Asgard and fulfill his own evil desires.

The two halves of the story, set on Earth and in Asgard, are quite tonally different. The Asgard segment is more familiar ground for Branagh having mostly done Shakespeare adaptations in the past with the likes of Hamlet. He manages to easily depict the conflicts between father and son and the treachery amongst relatives that are regular features in the work of the Bard. It’s just this time around there is also room for battles with Frost Giants and wielding magical weapons. The sets of Asgard are incredibly impressive, the visual effects are a bit ropey at times (mostly the rainbow road which just kept reminding me of Mario Kart), and the proceedings are dealt with in quite a dignified manner as not to make this world seem daft but one in which there are well-defined characters and structured action. When it gets to Earth, the film becomes a lot more laid back and a lot more fun, the fish-out-of-water scenario works brilliantly to allow for some genuinely funny moments (‘Bring me a horse!’). The two complement each other, and it is only really with the final act that proceedings fall apart.

The main problem being there is no real sense of threat. The most interesting element of the story is seeing the character of Thor change his ways and grow up due to the sweet and fun relationship he forms with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. You know once he gets the hammer that nothing is going to stand in his way. And it really over does it with the CGI in the final battle, heck most Hollywood films do these days. And the actual ending of the movie is quite poorly written, cutting off with no real sense of an end. Yes, the story is going to be expanded in The Avengers, but that is no excuse for an incredibly hurried ending and the sense of emptiness that it leaves you with. It doesn’t do the film any favours and it doesn’t credit the rest of the film.

Thankfully, the cast carry the film through its weak points. Chris Hemsworth anchors the film with his tough, funny and emotive performance as Thor, his ‘ye olde English’ talk being the source of the films best laughs. He really finds his feet with the role when the character is banished to Earth and he should more than match up to his co-stars once The Avengers comes around. Natalie Portman is able support and a pretty face in the role of Jane Foster. Although I doubt many physicists are that good-looking. Tom Hiddleston delivers a brilliantly subtle evil performance as Loki, despite his motives becoming very muddled last-minute in the climax. Anthony Hopkins is his usual grand and dignified self in the role of Odin, a role he could have easily hammed up, but he treats it with all the seriousness of, say, a Shakespearian role. Some of the cast really don’t add much, particularly Kat Dennings as an intern working with Portman and the dependable Stellan Skarsgard. You get the feeling she’s meant to be comic-relief but Thor himself is funny enough, and she really isn’t that funny. Her character really didn’t need to be in it at all.

Kenneth Branagh goes down on the list of Marvel’s unconventional choices for their directors, from Jon Favreau to his replacement Shane Black. I don’t think Branagh has made the transition to action flicks quite as smoothly as Favreau did. Favreau was amazing at action immediately, but his style suited it more. Branagh has a very weird style, filled with candid angles which quickly become irritating. The pace of the editing is very well executed, but the candid angles for the sake of style does get old quick. He knows how to direct actors though, and I think the strength of particularly Hemsworth’s performance came from the experienced direction that his actor/director has to offer. Branagh is a lot stronger at expressing, again, the more Shakespearian elements of the story, the area he is more comfortable in. That’s not to say the action disappoints, it’s very well choreographed and enjoyable enough, just not entirely inventive. There’s only so much you can do with a hammer I guess.

Marvel seemed to have learnt their lesson from Iron Man 2 in terms of the references to The Avengers. They seem less forced and more subtle, allowing the movie to stand-alone by itself without feeling like a trailer. The Hawkeye cameo seemed a bit pointless but it was a nice touch so we aren’t completely oblivious about the existence of the character come next summer. Which actually serves much better for escalating the buzz for next summers team up movie, sometimes less is more as the saying goes. All the pieces are falling into place, and this movie certainly is a fun and worthy addition to the Marvel cannon, and the filmmakers have certainly managed to establish Thor as a hero to take seriously, rather than a daft Norse God. No matter if there is a boom mic in shot at one point. It would seem the sound man is no match for The Mighty Thor, as he probably got the sack after that.

3/5– The hardest Avenger to establish suffers from a muddled and rushed climax and strange style choices. But it is brilliantly designed, Hemsworth impresses and the character is effectively established. Captain America… you’re up!  

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