Thor may not be as recognisable as Marvel Comics’ more recently adapted heroes Spider-man and the X-Men, but mighty team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character around the same time as the more media-savvy heroes. Drawing on influences from Norse mythology, Thor is distinct for not simply sharing a super-secret but a godly one as well. Largely Shakespearean actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh may not have been the most obvious choice to direct this epic super-hero blockbuster, a lynch-pin of a series that will ultimately form a super-team in The Avengers, but his own divine presence has attracted an impressive cast.
In the otherworldly realm of Asgard, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Rite) has ruled over an uneasy true with the Frost Giants in a nearby realm separated by the astral Bifröst. Defying his father’s express wishes, Odin’s impetuous son Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) attacks the Frost Giants to prove his worth, renewing hostilities with the enemy. Exiled on Earth for his actions, Thor encounters scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, No Strings Attached), Professor Andrews (Stellan Skarsgård, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) and their assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist). Powerless and stranded, Thor must learn his place in the universe before his brother Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston, Archipelago) plans come to fruition.
With only Captain America: The First Avenger to go before The Avengers assemble in 2012, Thor is one of the final pieces in the Marvel Universe puzzle that has been coming together since Iron Man. Thor was perhaps the hardest sell to punters, with the elaborate costumes and almost classical speech patterns potential hurdles to audience buy-in. Rather than water-down the key elements to the story, like so many failed adaptations (Daredevil, Elektra, Jonah Hex) before it, Branagh embraces the Shakespearean elements with gusto. This is not to say that the film takes itself too seriously though: a knowing sense of humour, especially from sidekick Kat Denning, ensures that Thor never disappears up its own cape. At its heart, Thor is not too far removed from the basic tenants of betrayal and deception that characterise King Lear, especially in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and the source material lends itself to this comparison. Yet even this is just a shorthand way of describing a story as old as the Norse legends themselves, repackaged in this adaptation of a graphic storyline that has been running for half a century. Where Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby’s original story (as it appeared in 1962’s Journey into Mystery #82) was a continuation of their exploration of dual identities in the “real world”, Branagh’s Thor grounds itself in a far more 21st century view of science versus magic.
Thor combines magic, action and epic mythology in a way not previously seen in the genre, but it held together by an impossibly good ensemble of actors. Hopkins swaggers in a powerful role that gives him the appearance of true god, a role he seems to have been saving himself for. Australia’s Hemsworth finally brings the star turn we always knew he had in him, delivering on the promise of his handful of powerful scenes as Captain Kirk’s dad in the Star Trek reboot. Portman’s role could have been played by anybody, but the recent Oscar-winner makes the character her own, establishing a genuine chemistry with her leading man in an uncharacteristically short running time. Yet it is star on the rise Hiddleston, soon to be seen in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, who impresses the most as the misguided and mischievous Loki. Channeling King Lear‘s Edmund and Julius Caesar‘s Cassisus as cited influences, Hiddleston’s powerfully sympathetic portrayal of the conflicted villain adds pathos where other films provide camp. The much-maligned cinematography is not so much distracting as it is disorienting at times, but it certainly sets this film apart from others in the genre. As an action epic, Thor is a first-rate blockbuster, providing a great introduction to the character with the promise of more thrills to come.
Thor was released in Australia on 21 April 2011 by Paramount.