My knowledge of Norse mythology would fit on the back of a 2nd class stamp. Other than vague recollections that Thursday is named after the God of Thunder, I approached this movie with neither historical nor comic book knowledge; even more of a novice than I normally am in these Hollywood adaptations. What I did know is that one of the minor heroes of life, Kenneth Branagh, was directing and two of my favourite actors, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, were fleshing out the majestic sets of Asgard. It’s a strange formula for a comic book movie but, having watched it, it makes perfect sense. This is a Shakespearean drama set amidst warring Gods and nuclear physicist humans, a tale of betrayal and redemption (for some, ass kicking for others).
Thor, played by Aussie actor (are they ruling the world at the moment or what?) Chris Hemsworth, is the heir presumptive to Asgard but also a bit of Braggadocio, swanning around with his massive hammer. Through into the mix the excellent Tom Hiddleston as his mutinous brother Loki and you’ve got a recipe for some good ol’ fashioned familial feuding. Thor gets kicked out of the ethereal realm and sent down to Earth, without his trusty hammer. It’s here that the film tackles head on one of its potential pitfalls: there is a massive swing in tone between the seriousness and fantastical nature of life amongst the Gods compared to the inherently human show being put on in a sleepy New Mexico town.
But Branagh handles this admirably, making Thor into a very funny character (after declaring his appreciation for coffee in a diner he smashes the mug on the floor to demand more) who doesn’t quite understand social graces. That said he’s a fast learner, perhaps too fast for my taste. Natalie Portman’s slightly unbelievable astrophysicist takes an immediate liking to Thor that has nothing at all to do with the eight pack that he’s sporting beneath his shiny armour. Their love story is a difficult one but Natalie Portman is sufficiently beautiful to make the relationship between God and mortal somewhat believable.
What of the action? Marvel is gearing up for The Avengers by introducing us to Thor and Captain America this Spring and this movie is a clear statement of intent. The action is superb (if a little heavy on Dutch tilts) with stars like Idris Elba and Ray Stevenson weighing in to lend a hand to the goings on. Jeremy Renner’s debut as Hawkeye is bizarre in that he doesn’t actually fire a single arrow (his character’s trademark, surely) but the prospect of seeing Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk together onscreen is a tasty prospect. Let’s hope Joss Whedon can deliver to the same sort of standard that Branagh has in bringing one of the most notoriously difficult superheroes to the big screen.
Excellent fun, Branagh doesn’t reinvent the wheel he just paints it with a coat of Shakespearean drama. Thor-oughly good stuff.