Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Miller, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Mark Protosevich, Stan Lee, Zack Stentz
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME:114 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
In 937 BC, the Gods saved Earth from the deadly Frost Giants, then retreated to their celestial realm of Asgard. Thor is the arrogant heir to the ruler Odin, and is about to take the throne while his brother Loki remains waiting in the wings. When a group of Frost Giants break into the palace and unsuccessfully attempt to take some weapons, Thor takes it upon himself to lead a revenge attack. Odin is furious and banishes Thor and his hammer to Midgard aka Earth. He is found by three people including protege scientist Jane, and now has to fit into this strange world. Meanwhile Loki has taken over Asgard….
I’m going to be completely honest here – I’m getting just a teeny bit tired of all these superhero movies. Maybe I’m getting old, maybe my tastes are just changing, maybe it’s because a certain film magazine is seemingly obsessed with them, maybe it’s because my first cinema viewing of a film was Superman: The Movie which for me has never been matched in the genre – I don’t know. Now that’s not to say I don’t enjoy them, I usually exit the cinema having been pretty well entertained, but increasingly often I also leave with a slight feeling of emptiness and disappointment, with few of the films containing for me much of the giddy lift that I used to expect and is prevalent in the best films of the subgenre. I don’t know about you, but most of these films seem to be somewhat holding back, staying away from getting too thrilling or too imaginative. However Thor seemed like it was going to be rather more interesting and exciting, partially I suppose because it takes from old Viking mythology, and the idea of a Norse God on our world and in our time is an admirably crazy one. Well, did Thor fulfill my expectations? Without a doubt it’s good fun, but once again I felt a distinct tang of disappointment after the movie had finished, even if it probably is the best of the recent rash of superhero flicks.
After a breathless opening when three people in a car – people who turn out to feature a lot in the movie – see a strange phenomenon in the sky, we launch into a lengthy flashback set amidst the Gods, replete with narration, which opens in The Fellowship Of The Ring style with a CG-laden battle, but continues more like a slightly odd pastiche of a Shakespearian drama in which one can easily see director Kenneth Branagh’s experience with the Bard. The tone is fairly serious and heavy for a bit, but, in the fashion of Superman, things become far lighter once Thor is on Earth. Although the film never becomes an out-and-out comedy, there are quite a few laughs based around Thor’s difficulty in adjusting to life in his new-found home. “Bring me a horse” he cries as he strides into a pet shop, and, after he is told the shop doesn’t sell horses but dogs and cats and the like, he replies, “Well get me one big enough to ride”. A subplot revolving around the discovery of his hammer, which has also been cast to Earth, gets stuck in the ground and has people trying to pull it out like King Arthur’s sword, is also entertaining.
Just over half way through, the action, which apart from some fighting near the beginning with some Frost Giants has been almost absent, starts to kick in with Thor breaking into a compound to retrieve his hammer from where SHIELD [the organisation introduced to us in Iron Man 2] have built a base around it, and then there’s a great attack by a big robot thing on a town which for a while reminded me of old Toho science fiction films like The Mysterians. The film really seems to be hotting up, but then it rushes through its plot at lightning speed and all it then delivers is some soap opera histrionics and some lame brawling between Thor and Loki in a room and on a bridge. I just wasn’t satisfied. I was thinking, “Maybe the Frost Giants may attack Earth” or something exciting and spectacular, but once again, the filmmakers seem to be holding back. At least the final scene is nicely bittersweet, though we don’t really care – I’m not saying there should have been an actual romance between Thor and Jane,but maybe there ought to have been more than the two or three scenes with them that we got!
Thor boasts some fantastic sets courtesy of Bo Welch, and Asgard, with its palace seemingly made from organ pipes, rainbow bridge and golden circles everywhere, does look amazing. There are shades of Dune and Flash Gordon in the design, but for the most part they did a really great job here creating an original and different-looking fantasy world, even if it seems heavily reliant on CGI. Sadly the CGI elsewhere is often quite poor – the Frost Giants especially are often quite blurry in their movements and don’t convince as actual living creatures. I saw this movie in 2D, as I resent paying extra money for a process that to me is both unconvincing and pointless, but I doubt that seeing it in 3D would change things much, except to make the fights [what few of them there are] even more hard to understand. Branagh joins the ever growing list of directors who film action but don’t actually seem to want us to see much of it because they film it with lots of closeups and fast cutting, though it’s possible the second unit did much of this. Still, watching action at the cinema these days is really starting to hurt these eyes. The script by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne is strong on comic book dialogue both supposedly serious and intentionally funny, but doesn’t seem to know what to do with its story towards the end, unless lots of footage was removed [I do seem to remember that for a while Thor was intended to be 130 mins long].
Branagh, who for some reason films some scenes at a titled angle a la the ’60s Batman series, seems more at home with the dialogue scenes than the action [what little there is], but the performances are often surprisingly poor. Chris Hemsworth may look the part of Thor but has the charisma of an amoeba and just looks like he wishes he was elsewhere [and hungover], while for this movie we don’t get the Natalie Portman of Black Swan but the Natalie Portman of Star Wars, the fake, forced one who always looks like she’s acting. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is one of the dullest cinema villains of recent years. Fortunately in the role of Odin we have Anthony Hopkins, and though he may very well be giving variations on the same performance in film after film now, he is still able to dominate the screen and is always fun to watch. With a score by Patrick Doyle that provides all the noise you expect but will probably be forgotten almost immediately after the film has finished [what happened to all those great themes you used to get in superhero movies?], Thor does get the job done it sets out to do, but no more. Once again, I expected more from a superhero film than I got. Oh well, I’ll still be queuing up for the next one.