26 April 2011

THOR- Review

Looking at the scoreboard as Marvel Studios doggedly continues to ramp up next year's blockbuster event, The Avengers, it becomes clear that not every part of the puzzle is coming together. The Incredible Hulk will feel disparate because Mark Ruffalo is going to replace Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, and Iron Man 2 proved that you can't let Tony Stark be Tony Stark while SHIELD are pottering around and teasing summer 2012.

So it's surprising then, that the God of Thunder turns out to be the most grounded character yet established for the upcoming Marvel team-up extravaganza. Thor introduces its titular character as an arrogant and short-tempered warrior from another dimension, called Asgard. He's heir to his father Odin's throne, but when he recklessly breaks a truce with Asgard's old enemies, the Frost Giants, he's exiled to Earth and relieved of his powers. Thor must prove himself worthy of his heritage in time to stop a threat that could consume both Asgard and Earth.

If ever one of the Avengers was going to be a tough sell, it would be Thor. After the Iron Man films and The Incredible Hulk spent time establishing the hyper-reality of the science behind their outlandish protagonists, Thor as a character is a straight-up god. Many of his allies are also gods, and many of his foes are demons or monsters. Handily, Thor manages to rejig elements of the character in order to establish Asgard as another dimension, which is apparently easier to swallow than polytheism.

Put it this way- I don't know that I could immediately see him working alongside Tony Stark, but after seeing the film, that's Tony Stark's problem and not Thor's. Chris Hemsworth brings the character to life in an astonishingly endearing fashion, making him a hugely entertaining spectacle as he's all discombobulated on Earth but also making him a genuine, certified hard-arse. He's the central piece of the puzzle, but he can't claim all of the credit for why Thor works so well.

Kenneth Branagh might not seem the obvious choice to direct a film like this, until you allow the more dramatic elements to breathe. I'm not saying that the royal rumblings between "All-Father" Odin and his two sons Thor and Loki are Shakespearean in scale, but they do require that we treat them seriously. Branagh lends the material the gravitas that it needs, casting Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston in the supporting role. Hopkins is admirably restrained for a god who wears a golden eyepatch and Hiddleston masks his character's intentions behind benevolent and nebbish expressions while maintaining an air of inscrutability that makes him a really effective character.

Luckily, Branagh doesn't skimp on the funnies either. When it's meant to be, it's a very, very funny film. It's not to say that the gorgeous Kat Dennings, who serves as the designated comic relief character, is always on the mark, but then most of the comedy comes from the culture clash, which rings out all the way through. The comedy serves to temper the full-on fantasy elements, in which a beautifully designed Asgard neighbours other realms, with names you won't remember ten seconds after they're mentioned. The weakest segment of the film is the early stuff before Thor's banishment, which feels like expendable backstory more than epic storytelling.

I'm finding it difficult to nail what makes Thor so special, but unusually I think it's probably something to do with the romantic throughline. Having annoyed me for the last couple of films I've seen her in, Natalie Portman returns to form as the scientist who gets more than she bargained for when the God of Thunder topples out of the weather anomalies she's been chasing. Portman plays it klutzy, but there's a real sweetness to her character, and her chemistry with Hemsworth really helps to ground the most ungrounded character in the Avengers' ranks.

Thor confidently strides across a rainbow bridge between full-blooded sword and sorcery fantasy flick and genuinely hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy. Crucially, it feels more like a tee-up to The Avengers than anything else we've seen so far, without ever letting Agent Coulson and the SHIELD crew overwhelm our hero. It's smashing fun on an unexpectedly grand scale, and a triumph in direction from Kenneth Branagh. A bold, boisterous and brilliant opening to the summer blockbuster season.

Thor is showing in 2D and 3D at cinemas nationwide from tomorrow.
If you've seen Thor, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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