Hardly divine, but we don't need a Viking funeral for it.

Released in 2011, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 15 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
Thor image

I don't recall the trailer making a fuss over the director of this latest Marvel comic book adaptation, presumably because it raises more questions than it answers. Kenneth Branagh? Really? Not that I don't like the guy, but he doesn't seem quite the Superhero director type.

While this takes a few liberties with the origins, I'd imagine anyone with a passing exposure to Norse myths will recognise the name Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as the God of Thunder, discoverer of the day after Wednesday. Here he's passed off as a mere alien, an Asgardian, as it happens, mistaken for a God by those zany Viking primitives. While hardly lacking in the strength department at the best of times, he also wields the powerful divine/advanced alien technology hammer Mjolnir. So, a force to be reckoned with, at least until he launches an ill-advised revenge-seeking incursion into the territory of the Frost Giants, the Asgardian's age old enemy.

As a punishment for his reckless, war-provoking, bloodthirsty actions, Thor's father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), discoverer of the day before Thursday and Boss God of Norse Legend, strips Thor of his powers, banishes him to Earth and declares him unworthy of wielding Mjolnir, casting the hammer to Earth and embedding it in rock, Sword-in-the-Stone style, to remain there until a fit wielder retrieves it.

Thor's descent to Earth is witnessed by theoretical physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), investigating the strange readings caused by the technology/magic used by the Asgardian bridge between worlds. Pulling the fallen God from his impact crater, she begins attempts to help the misplaced, shell-shocked Thor adjust to his new life as a man, at least until the officious S.H.I.E.L.D. agents start sticking their oar in. Meanwhile in Asgard, Thor's younger brother Loki is making a power grab, attempting to deceive, trick and backstab his way into usurping Odin's throne, part of which requires that Thor be removed from the picture permanently.

In retrospect, I suppose I can see why it would appeal to and/or be thought suitable for Branagh to have his hand at the tiller. There's more in common here thematically with Hamlet than Iron Man. Although admittedly Hamlet didn't feature Claudius setting a monstrous robot on the Prince.

Sadly the themes don't sit well with the comic book action, which is much the same as every other Marvel adaptation knocking around, with little other than some lavish set design to differentiate it. If only they designed more than one set, we'd have something to properly praise, but most of it takes place in the blandest of New Mexican towns or worse, a desert. I suppose that's to set up a contrast with the multicoloured digital opulence of Asgard, but it looks boring in comparison.

To his credit, Branagh has eked decent performances from his cast, and for the most part they're as believable and likable as would be required for this sort of thing. The problem is the main character himself. Not that Hemsworth has given a bad turn, and some of his "Waah! I'm still a God! Honest!" anachronisms in the early stretches are pretty amusing.

While Thor's story is supposed to be one of his personal redemption and maturation, when first introduced to him he's so immature and irredeemable it's difficult to buy in to anything that he's doing. As a reminder, at the start of this film he's such a warmonger that he's willing to wander into an enemy land, break the truce and start hammering willy-nilly, presumably murdering a number of people who are just defending their land. By rights, the rest of the film ought to be Thor and his co-conspirators up in the Hauge on war crimes charges.

Perhaps that's reading a little too much into what's supposed to be a slice of escapist fun, but it's an unwelcome distraction in a movie that's not doing a great deal to otherwise stand out from the ever-increasing crowd. Also distracting is the bafflingly obligatory 3D, which is almost entirely unnoticeable. It's been decried as 'bad' 3D, but bear in mind this is a sliding scale that starts at 'utter obnoxious' and goes all the way up to the heady heights of 'merely unenjoyable and awkward', so this is a different level of 'bad' than would usually be prescribed by linguistics.

Thor's a decent enough, but pretty much unremarkable entry in a genre that's already packed to the gunwales, with a goodly number of similar, better movies out there. Give it a miss.

Kenneth Branagh
Cast list:
Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
Natalie Portman (Jane Foster)
Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
Anthony Hopkins (Odin)
Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Selvig)