Saturday, 17 December 2011
It's no secret, especially to readers of this blog, that I'm not a great fan of Marvel superheroes. Thor, in particular, being one I found both irritating, with cod-archaic mode of speech, and boring, with a no-dimensional personality. So I was quite surprised when good reviews rolled in by the dozen and which encouraged me to buy the DVD when it came down in price a bit.
I still remained to be convinced but damned if Marvel didn't do the 2011 triple of really entertaining well-made super-hero movies. Captain America and X-Men First Class being the others which actually dragged me to cinema (see appropriate posts). 2012 brings Joss Whedon's Avengers which everyone expects to be utterly brilliant and anything less will be a disappointment. DC have much better characters than Marvel but, Batman excepted, they just can't seem to get it together on the film front.
There is a lot that Thor the movie gets right and very little it gets wrong.
First off is Asgard and the Asgardian gods. They aren't the supernatural based entities of myth and Marvel comics. Instead they are the products of science that is so far advanced that it looks -and here is where director Branagh is really clever- almost but not quite like magic. When Heimdall operates Bifrost to transport people to other realms, it is clearly a teleportational device. These gods are more like the Hindu gods of Roger Zelazny's award-winning Science Fiction novel Lord of Light. The Norse myths surrounding the Asgardians are the perceptions of a primitive people viewing a science they can't comprehend. The design of Asgard itself is very impressive which is just as well as a surprising amount of the running time is spent there.
Secondly, the story is kept quite simple. When Thor, on the verge of being given the kingship, arrogantly disobeys Odin and attacks the Frost Giants on their homeworld of Jotunheim almost bringing about disaster, Odin removes his powers and banishes him to Earth. While Thor learns a lesson in humility in a New Mexico town with the help of astro-physicist Jane Foster, his brother Loki, with Odin in a god-coma, seems to be bringing about the downfall of Asgard by secretly allying with the Frost Giants because (spoiler omitted). Odin has also sent Thor's hammer to Earth. The hammer can only be lifted by someone worthy of the power of Thor and is discovered by SHIELD which sets up a camp around it. Thor's buddies (the Warriors Three plus Lady Sif) go to Earth to help him and Loki tries to put a stop to it which leads to the climax.
It's all very clearly told, at a good pace, and leavened by touches of humour. On seeing the Warriors Three, a cop reports in that there's "Robin Hood, a ninja, and ...some other guy." The 'other guy' should be Falstaff after whom the portly character Volstagg is named and is a sly Shakespearean joke which, I assume, was inserted by director Kenneth Branagh who knows more than a little about Shakespeare.
The acting is more than acceptable. I can't imagine anyone giving a better performance as Thor than Chris Hemsworth, who can act. It's impossible to imagine anyone else convincingly playing Odin other than Anthony Hopkins who provides the gravitas necessary to take the character seriously. Tom Hiddleston underplays Loki rather than making him a hissable villain. Natalie Portman (Jane Foster) is one of the best young Hollywood actresses around. Idris Elba as Heimdall provides provides great dignity and power to an otherwise one-note role.
Branagh has done a terrific job on this film. Sure it's a popcorn movie, but it's a really good popcorn movie.