Thor Review: Stop, Hammer Time

THOR (12A):
On General Release Wednesday 27th April

Marvel Studios are keen to get as many of their properties onto the big screen as possible. With X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and other assorted “men” cluttering up the silver screen already comes their latest addition, hammer-wielding beefcake Thor.

Thor is the son of Odin and the heir apparent to the throne of the mythical kingdom of Asgard. Asgard has lived in peace for many years as their foes the Ice Giants have been driven back into their own kingdom by Odin who captured the source of their power long ago. But when an incursion by a party of ice giants disrupts Thor’s coronation, he’s incensed and wants to invade their lands only to have his hand stayed by his father, who realises this would start a war.

Manipulated by his scheming brother Loki into disobeying his father’s wishes, Thor gets into an almighty dust-up in the land of the Ice Giants and is subsequently cast out of Asgard.

Landing on earth and stripped of his powers, he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) a researcher in New Mexico, who after hitting him with her car, helps him learn humility so that he’ll be able to wield the fabled hammer Mjolnir, regain his strength and return home.

It’s a good half an hour before Thor even gets to earth – the first 30 minutes takes place in Asgard where we’re introduced to Thor, Loki and the other Norse Gods (Idris Elba as the orange-eyed guardian Heimdal is particularly good). Part of the difficulty of adapting old comic properties is that they often have a rich background which spans decades – condensing this into less than two hours while also giving them something to do is a real balancing act. Fortunately, the humongous size of the sets frames Thor and his cohorts in a truly godly scale and gives his inevitable fall from grace more gravitas.

On reflection Thor could have gone badly wrong. The gigantic sets, frankly ridiculous costumes, preposterous haircuts (Thor sports a barnet that Patrick Swayze himself would be proud of) and bombastic dialogue could quite easily have propelled it into the Cheese Dimension, from which no mere mortal can escape.

Fortunately, director Kenneth Branagh knows this and sidesteps it deftly, instead delivering a rip-roaring adventure which is more fun than you can shake a hammer at. Hemsworth is easily on par with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man in terms of superhero screen presence, not only because he has biceps that eclipse the sun but because Thor provides him opportunity for some unexpectedly great fish-out-of water comedy. He’s great with the comedy, excels at the action set pieces and fairly competent with the slushy stuff with Natalie Portman.

Portman herself doesn’t really get much to do – mainly pouting and sulking about having he research stolen – another actress could have filled the role without anyone noticing. Anthony Hopkins is reliably decent as long-suffering patriarch Odin but otherwise unremarkable under his silly gold eye patch. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki on the other hand presents a much more intriguing villain – his inevitable confrontation with Odin and his brother sparking all kinds of questions about his motivations – he’s devious without resorting to mustachio-twirling melodrama.

The plot’s fairly forgettable and as soon as Thor’s cast out from Asgard, it’s easy to see where the thread will go. But it’s so much fun – fast paced, full of bombastic action, genuinely hilarious lines and self-aware humour that’s it’s almost impossible to focus on the negatives. Thor’s a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe and a step up to the credibility of the forthcoming Avengers film.

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