Friday, June 10, 2011

Thor hammers it home

When I heard that Kenneth Branagh was going to helm Marvel's movie based on the superhero The Mighty Thor, I was initially dumbfounded. One's first instinct is to think "Doesn't Brannagh do serious drama or Shakespearean stuff?", it was only realising the latter genre was his most prolific playground was what sold me on the whole idea because if you've read Thor you'll know that the characters bizarrely outmoded speech matches what Branagh has spent the majority of his career working with.

Thankfully however, Brannagh eschewed the more bizarre Asgardian dialog and just let them speak more elegant English than you'll ever find in a modern super-hero movie. But dialog is only one thing; what of the obviously necessary CGI special effects driven spectacle that would be required to faithfully interpret one of Marvel’s oldest properties? The last “long shot” they backed was Jon Favreau doing Iron Man, but even he had the likes of Zathura under his belt - with the exception of a few lightening bolts in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein back in '94, Brannagh has had little experience with special effects laden movies it was feared by many including myself that he just wouldn’t have the knowledge to pull this off to any great degree.

I needn't have worried, because Brannagh nailed it. With him, a modest $150m and the support of a fabulous production team; Marvel Studios with Paramount got it right again as they have with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Only this time they've done what I thought would be impossible: they've turned comic book character I've always thought rather dull into an interesting an entertaining movie.

The relatively unknown Chris Star Trek Hemsworth landed the role of Thor and he embodies the character splendidly [or as much of Thor as I’ve read which is admittedly limited to crossovers with Iron Man]. Considering what Robert Downey Jnr.’s Tony Stark pricetag must be now, it’s a good thing that Hemsworth is not as big a name as Downey, Chris Evans [as Captain America] or Mark Rufallo [as Bruce Banner] will be for their ensemble film The Avengers next year. The Norse god’s love interest Jane Foster is portrayed by Natalie Portman who I believe may be getting a little too much celluloid exposure when you consider not including this one - she's appeared in 4 movies already this year including her Oscar winning turn in Black Swan. I’m not sure she had the energy on screen that is required for a super hero movie as hers seemed the flattest performance of the bulging cast. I was surprised that Brannagh did not cast himself as Odin, Thor's father however and instead roped in Sir Anthony Hopkins to play the Asgardian King. One my think Sir Tony a bit to old now to be dressing up in such bizarre costumes and hamming it up but no, the man still has it. And every super hero story must have a super villain and Branagh's Wallander co-star Tom Hiddleston’s turn as the iconic Marvel villain Loki isn’t half bad considering the actor's similar lack of experience with the genre.

The supporting cast does not disappoint, Stellan Ronin Skarsgård is Jane’s mentor Professor Erik Selvig, Kat Dennings is Darcy, Jane's assistant and a good shot with a taser. Idris The Losers Elba is Heimdall, who stands eternal guard over the Bifröst which grants passage in and out of Asgard. Thor has a team of sorts, his friend Sif [Jaimie Kyle XY Alexander] and "The Warriors Three": Volstagg [Ray Punisher: War Zone Stevensen], Fandral [Joshua The Descent 2 Dallas] and Hogun [Tadanobu Ichi the Killer Asano] who aid him in battle until his exile to Earth. Fans of Iron Man and its sequel will instantly recognise Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. in his largest role yet to date as the character. Of course there’s the obligatory cameo from Samuel L. Jackson once again as Nick Fury, but for his part in the tale you must wait until the final credit has rolled to reveal the stinger. The biggest surprise however is that here Rene Russo returns to the screen after an extraordinarily long [in Hollywood terms] absence since 2005, to play Thor's stepmother Frigga.

Co-written by Mark I am Legend Protoseveich and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski who was not long after spending a stint writing the Thor comic book and scored by Patrick Doyle, Thor is an origin tale of sorts, in so far as it introduces the character to audiences but it’s not a story which is bogged down in the characters past [in so far as we don’t know how exactly he came by Mjolnir, his mighty hammer and source of power]. The movie is drenched in humour and in-jokes but not to the extent of making a mockery of itself. Thor is portrayed as a cocky, brash, headstrong prince who on the day of his ascension to the throne, defies his father's wishes and reignites an ancient conflict with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Exiled to Earth as a mortal, now bereft of his power as a punishment for his disobedience, Thor is discovered and aided by astrophysicist Jane Foster's expedition in New Mexico. Thor must learn humility and become worthy of his power and retrieve Mjolnir from the clutches of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Final Verdict: Thor is a fun and entertaining action adventure superhero movie that hits all its marks and then some. Hopefully this - the first of the great summer blockbusters - sets a precedent for all that follow.

Colonel Creedon Rating: *****

1 comment:

Constance said...

"Is that a hammer in your pants or are you just glad to see me?"

"Hammer? I barely know 'er!"

I must be stopped. Soon.