This week on Radio 3 I talked about Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation of the classic fairytale Cinderella, as well as Ava DuVernay’s stirring Martin Luthur King Jr biopic, Selma, which finally reaches Hong Kong after a long and controversial march through awards season.
When the newly formed Marvel studios announced their ambitious plan to build a new superhero franchise around THE AVENGERS, giving each character their own individual movie ahead of the first team outing in 2012, fans and skeptics alike were quick to identify THOR as a potential weak spot. It’s one thing to present an alcoholic billionaire playboy who designs the ultimate suit of armour and embarks on a crime-fighting spree, or even that a closeted scientist might transform into a violent green ogre after being blasted with gamma radiation. Thor, on the other hand, is a God – an acknowledged and revered deity with a day of the week named after him!
The task assigned director Kenneth Branagh, the screenwriters and a cast including Oscar winners Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and unknown Chris Hemsworth in the title role, is to convince us that the celestial realm of Asgard not only exists, but does so alongside the world of IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK. What should hopefully have studio execs and fanboys breathing a collective sigh of relief, however, is that the Asgard sequences are absolutely spectacular, playing host to a first act Frost Giant battle that is the film’s strongest action sequence. The family feud that erupts between Thor, his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their father, Odin (Hopkins), is played with almost Shakespearean gravitas and serves as the best possible introduction for these characters.
Once banished to Earth, Thor crosses paths with scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard), and soon after SHIELD Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and is tasked with retrieving his magical hammer, which has landed in the desert nearby. The second act contains a surprising amount of humour but builds characters and relationships well, with the obligatory fish-out-of-water scenes frequently hitting the mark. Hemsworth ensures Thor never comes across as a buffoon, but rather a spoilt, immature and arrogant warrior – and sells it perfectly. Natalie Portman brings her usual balance of beauty and brains to her role, while Skarsgaard is on hand whenever Norse mythology is required to fill in the blanks. Props should also be given to Clark Gregg as the face of the franchise, and Kat Dennings, who fulfills her comic relief duties admirably.
Some characters, namely Sif and the Warriors Three, are sadly under-used, but elsewhere there are a couple of brief cameos to get people excited. The film’s biggest failing, however, is that the action never lives up to the film’s impressive opening, with the final earthbound standoff against the Destroyer proving rather anticlimactic. Things do pick up again back in Asgard, but the film undeniably ends on a whimper rather than a bang. These are minor qualms, however, because for the most part Branagh has managed to recapture the mood and tone of Richard Donner’s original SUPERMAN in THOR, successfully melding the otherworldly with the real, and introducing a superhero of almost limitless power only to show us that he’s also just a man.