(Directed by Kenneth Branagh, running time 112 minutes)
NOTE: At time of writing, Thor is timetabled for the 27th April in the UK. I however was fortunate to catch an advance screening.
Back when the first Iron Man film came out, the post-credits teaser implicating the prospect of a full feature Avengers movie was nothing short of a geek’s exciment-induced heart attack. To be fair, even those outside of the realms of comic book geekdom, the prospect of witnessing a multi-million dollar budget epic of a super genius billionaire in a mech suit, a colossal monster so powered by rage that shooting him only pisses him off, an honor bound super soldier who single handedly won World War Two and the immortal Viking God of Thunder, all under the organization of a world wide military powerhouse lead by “mother fucking” Samuel L. Jackson... *breathe* should raise at least moderate to high interest from anyone.
The only folly of outing such a feat of film making so early would be the sheer weight of expectations from anything else connected and driving towards it. Case in point was Iron Man 2. While a perfectly well-done action adventure movie experience that gave us all the super-powered set-pieces and crazy yet likable characterization, at the end of the day one could not shake the feeling you were instead watching a mere Avengers prequel... or worse yet a feature length advertisement. While audiences still wait over Captain America’s first [legitimate] push on the big screen, here and now we have Thor.
From from the start however, unlike Iron Man 2, Thor is a near self contained story. The viking Gods are actually superbeings from another world who have protected mankind in the past. The “God” of thunder Thor played by a very buff Chris Hemsworth and heir to the throne of Asgard held by Odin played by the always classic Anthony Hopkins, is one the path to rule until his supposed arrogant war hunger against their ancient long foes the Frost Giants results in his exile to, surprise surprise planet Earth. After being scooped up by Jane Foster played by a now Oscar touting Natalie Portman, Thor attempts to regain his powers, all the while his brother Loki played by Tom Hiddleston secretly attempts to seize the throne for himself.
What I find perplexing however is while the above is more or less accurate summery of the narrative, one third of the film dramatically leads up to his fall from Asgard, complete with sweeping showcases of it’s beautiful world and set-piece battles between our hero and the monstrous Frost Giants. It’s all impressing stuff that really gives you a feel for this hyper-fantasy version of the old Norse tales. It’s actually surprising just how much of this element was left out of marketing just given how much imagination and creative effort went into bringing this city of gods to life. Perhaps they didn’t want to spoil anything but the history of cinema would disagree with that theory. Because of this it makes his harsh new situation on our humble little rock all the more underwhelming in comparison. It’s almost jarring when in one scene you witness a golden hall of super-vikings brandish their magnificent armory before flying to battle through the cosmos then cutting back to Stellan Skarsgard downing bottles of cheap booze in a shack bar. It’s as if the film is trying to one up itself, the lesser of the two being the real character drama.
Despite some personal reservations upon first viewing the trailer complete with questionable attempts at anger and sorrow, the acting, for the most part is serviceable at least. While some attempts at humor fall flat and the romantic sub-plot is forgettable in the grand scheme of things, such issues thankfully don’t distract from the real sense of purpose. In fact the entire drama can best be summarized as a family-matter... an epic one if that. Returning to my previous point of the jarring scenes, same can also be said about the characterization. For example, along for the ride in Thor’s adventure are Sif and the Warriors Three, a group of heroes who on the surface make up the archetypes of warriors. The lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is more of a valkyrie, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) the large viking, Fandral (Joshua Dallas) the swashbuckler and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) the mongol. These characters receive enough screen time to display their character traits, dialogue and exposition that at one point I actually found myself rather wanting to instead watch a feature length film about them. In fact, it’s only after they themselves come to Earth does the setting become relevant... that and a giant magical automaton that decimates a small town. On top of this, the character of Loki is one of the more interesting villains in the super hero world. While far from the best (you can’t touch the Joker), much of his motivation is fueled by a classic case of being in the shadow of Thor, the second son, the odd one out, all being a nice change change up from the usual “because I’m evil”, even if it does border on such initially.
As you’ve probably picked up on, the narrative in terms of setting simply doesn’t know where it wants to stay. And here’s my theory why: even though it’s a self contained story, the link to Earth was mandatory in order for Thor to properly link in with, you guessed it; the upcoming Avengers film. Yet, even with this burden, the narrative is fairly coherent and does host some believable and likable characters... and even though the costume design is near fitting with the original comic book incarnations, that would be saying something. Further more unlike Iron Man 2, besides the heavy presence of S.H.I.E.L.D., the references to a wider Marvel universe are kept to a minimum, but what pandering we do get does still intrigue. Besides one mildly humorous moment in which one agent remarks over whether the giant automaton is one of Stark’s creations, the audience is actually subtly, if unknowingly introduced to another member of the upcoming Avengers; Hawkeye played by the excellent Jeremy Renner of the Hurt Locker fame. And yes there is a post-credit teaser, yet I doubt it would make much sense to a non-Marvel affiliated person such as myself.
Even without knowledge of the house of Stan Lee (with an obligatory cameo of course), Thor definitely holds up next to it’s current super hero siblings with enough well-crafted fantasy and classic Marvel wit to hold more than the attention of the uninitiated, while also being able to construct a real narrative around all the visuals and action, a proud enough feat. For those who are however affiliated however, you’re probably going to get even more excited for the future.
Also starring Colm Feore, Idris Elba and Kat Dennings.
FYI, this film didn't have much to compete with from my previous experiences with Thor.
WARNING - So bad, it's good: