Thor (2011)


Director:  Kenneth Branagh
Cast:  Chris HemsworthAnthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba.
Plot: The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

Genre: Action / Adventure / Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  PG for some violence. 

“You've come a long way to die, Asgardian.” 

Where Michel Gondry, the acclaimed director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Be Kind Rewind (2008), had comically failed with The Green Hornet (2011), Kenneth Branagh, the respected director of Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996) succeeded with Thor

An extremely promising setup to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which is slated for release in the summer of 2012, Thor is without any doubt the best film Marvel Studios has produced in recent years, even better than the Iron Man (2008, 2010) series, I’d reckon. In fact, one has to go back to Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (2002) for any decent comparison with the quality of Branagh’s work here.

Any dissonance felt since Branagh was picked to helm Thor would have slowly evaporated in the first thirty minutes of the film. After all, it is a bold and risky move for someone who is known for brilliantly translating the theatrics and subtleties of Shakespeare’s words into film form to challenge himself with a big-budget superhero movie meant for a popcorn-munching audience. 

Speaking of which, Thor is imbued with Shakespearean undertones of betrayal, sacrifice, and tensions among the hierarchical ruling family. Branagh brings a touch of humanistic, real-world sensibility to the fantastical setting, enlivening the film when it could have been dulled with flat visual effects.

The story takes time to build up, and that effort is worth it, as it immerses viewers into three realms, that of Earth, Asgard (where Thor and his father, Odin, live), and Jotunheim (where the villains, the Frost Giants, live). The settings in each of these three realms play an important role as they give viewers the chance to visualize and juxtapose the worlds of these “mythical” characters. 

Action sequences fought in Asgard and especially Jotunheim, are well-directed with visual and sound effects becoming the main draw, appeasing Marvel fans who will get numerous opportunities to see Thor (and his oh-my-gosh-I-so-want-that-hammer) in action.

In contrast, what happens on Earth is ordinary. But it remains to be the realm that provides the film with its most hilarious situations, and a romantic subplot involving the newly-crowned swan queen Natalie Portman, who plays Jane Foster. 

Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who as a new face to Hollywood, is surprisingly charismatic as an actor. Perhaps his charm plays out from his character, who from a brave but arrogant royal prince of Asgard becomes a lost soul on Earth, where he is banished to by his father (Anthony Hopkins) for inciting war with the Frost Giants.

For a film that sees itself as a serious take on the Marvel universe, it is quite funny. The most laugh-out-loud moment occurs during a brief conversation between Thor and a pet store owner. Another milks humor from an Iron Man reference. Other moments take advantage of the “earthly” situations Thor find himself unable to adapt to. 

On a random note, I would advise Marvel fans to stay all the way till the end of the end credits for a snippet of what is to come in The Avengers.

Thor, under the hands of Branagh, is an excellent example of how to do a superhero movie right. It has all the necessary elements that make a successful Hollywood blockbuster. By no means a great film, but it certainly aspires to be so. And for that and other reasons mentioned above, I shall lavish praise and give a recommendation.


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