‘Thor’ is a curious beast of a film. I ‘should’ have hated it, I ‘should’ have made loud tutting noises throughout, snipey comments to my friends about the bad dialogue, and furrowed my brow at the larger than life characters. But I didn’t. I don’t always know what I like, but I know what I hate… and I didn’t hate this.
Firstly, this is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who I am inclined to like, as a result of his fine Shakespearian background, as well as his similar educational background to mine. He directs here in a methodical manner, yet interestingly shuns the campy and oft-maligned style of most comic book adaptations. This isn’t Chris Nolan’s Batman, but it is closer to that than Joel Schumacher’s. The very nature of the Marvel comic book series’ protagonists leave much less room for gritty and real-world elements to be injected (such as the whole ‘war-on-terror’ motif of The Dark Knight), and yet the story of Thor is managed in a way that is enjoyable without being cliched.
The casting is masterful, with the great Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery to pieces as Odin, the head of the royal family of Asgard, a mythical realm that is intrinsically linked to our own. The house of Asgard royalty is under threat as the king’s truce with the barmy, pantomime villains of the ice realm, the Frost Giants, is brought into doubt by the foolhardy and bold actions of Thor, his son. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who injects a great deal of pathos and inner turmoil to a role where he could understandably have let his pecs do all the acting. He’s the type of action hero you’d like to have a beer with, and exchange his wondrous tales of conquering worlds, with your own of drunken nights in Camden, and he’d genuinely be interested.
The true masterstroke of casting though, is in the younger of Odin’s sons - Loki. The true protagonist of the picture is played in a way reminiscent of Iago from Othello, scheming his way between the realms, showing his duplicitous nature as a result of his true parentage and desire to placate his adopted paternal influence. Tom Hiddleston is spectacular in this role, flexing his highly-trained acting muscle in a worthy and compelling manner. I worked on a Joanna Hogg project starring Hiddleston named Archipelago a few months ago, and found it to be incredibly pretentious and navel-gazing of the highest order. If that kind of background allows for performances of this nature, then I am entirely turned around on the subject. Hiddleston is compelling as an on-screen presence, his elaborate machinations are portrayed in an almost Shakespearian tone, without a hint of extroversion.
The central storyline involving Nathalie Portman is a bit forgettable, but Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant, essentially reprising his role as a professor from Good Will Hunting, kind but pushy of his students. I found it harder to take Portman seriously as a science student than Hemsworth as an intergalactic, hammer wielding beefcake, and I think it can therefore be deduced that the ‘Earth realm’ stuff is the weakest of the film.
The film reaches a satisfying denouement and I was left feeling anticipation for the upcoming ‘SHIELD’ Branagh’s direction was a triumph, as were the brilliant performances from the central cast. The 3D was actually necessary here, and the huge landscape of Asgard and Jotunheim looked spectacular, the Earth scenes weren’t too amazing, but then I see it in 3D every day. Overall, the picture was a triumph, and proof that 3D, and comic book fantasy, can work if the right man is at the helm.