Thor review

The Merry Marvel Marching Movie Franchise thunders on apace, with its latest instalment in the run up to the superhero bonanza that will be The Avengers being Thor, the story of the Viking thunder god descended to save us from mystical threats.

Will this Kenneth Branagh-helmed franchise spawner derail Marvel's track of success? Hit the jump to find out:

When we heard that the Thor movie was on its way, we were excited. Marvel had taken the reigns of its properties and was giving the fans exactly what they wanted and showing the noobs why people read comics. Then we heard that the mighty Branagh was to direct and assumed this was some sort of prank. The champion of movie thesping himself in charge of a blockbuster action flick? Surely not?

Still, a spectacular trailer had us all itching to see this bizarre mash up. So, it was with some trepidation that we entered the cinema. Rave reviews and high box office suggested good things, but we knew not what to expect.

Thor is one of Marvel's earliest superhero properties. The comics tell the story of the original god of thunder himself, cast out of Asgard by his all-powerful father in a fit of rage over his arrogance. Thor is abandoned on Earth to learn the meaning of heroism; which he does by saving the world repeatedly alongside Marvel's other major players as an Avenger. Blissfully, the movie franchise follows an identical series of events.

Likewise, Thor keeps, by and large, to his costume, which was notoriously difficult to translate. Just like Wolverine's yellow spandex, no-one wanted to see a superhero in medieval garb with a winged helmet flying around; but Branagh not only manages to make it work, but also puts Thor up there on Marvel's best-dressed list.

Anyone expecting to see a toned-down, more-realistic approach to Thor's powers, as was suggested in the trailers, will be stunned to see him flying around and creating tornadoes just like the comics, but again, it works, never coming across like a Superman clone as it could in less-skilled hands.

One of Marvel's strengths in its comics is that, where confronted with a superhero whose trappings are inherently silly, unmarketable, 60s concepts, rather than re-writing the character's history as competitor DC does, Marvel makes fun of these foibles and turns them into a strength. Branagh's film does the same. Numerous moments that could have been cringe-worthy, overdone, fish-out-of-water clich├ęs, are sold to the audience with a quick-fire pun and a metaphorical wink. Branagh's skill with theatrical high-brow humour has made what could well be one of the year's best comedies. There were far more members of the audience in stitches in the screening we saw than in a hundred Fokker movies.

In the same vein, Branagh has made this a film grounded, not in balls-to-the-wall action, but in character and drama. Far more attention is paid to Thor's journey to heroism and the interactions of the cast than the, nonetheless brilliant, action setpieces.

This allows the fantastic line up to shine. Not for Branagh, a cast of action-movie staples, here we have a group of "slumming" thesps, who nonetheless respect the property enough to give it their all. Portman gives what could have been a dull romantic interest a good portion of character, while Hopkins actually puts some effort in for the first time in a long while. Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo and, most of all, Idris Elba, provide ample support. Relative newcomer and Captain Kirk's dad himself, Chris Hemsworth, on the other hand, may well be a new Day Hollywood Stood Still favourite. The God of Thunder has become one of Marvel's best-loved characters due to the above-mentioned liberal dose of humour and awesome, and Hemsworth instils him with enough charm and hubris for the character to actually pass as an immortal hero. Our only disappointment is the lack of Brian Blessed. Come on, Marvel, Volstagg, surely?

The effects are as impressive as you would expect from Marvel, with Asgard in particular looking stunning. Perhaps the only criticism, however, is just how small-scale the film seems. We see less than twenty of Asgard's residents, while the rest of the film takes place mostly in a small New Mexico town, with the handful of residents often the only ones at threat. This is an unusual situation for a superhero film, but not an unwelcome one. Again, coming from Branagh's background, he provides a focus on character interaction and has no need to involve a cast of thousands to create tension as it's already here in spades.

Not that Branagh has over-ridden the "immature" medium that spawned the property for the sake of high-brow waffling. The film is a genuine adaptation of the source material, not just a rip-off of the concept, and is chock full of nods to fans. We're even treated to a brief cameo from the yet-to-be-introduced Avenger Hawkeye, which left us very excited for The Avengers movie.

Marvel took a gamble on Branagh and it paid off big time; not that we're really surprised. The comic book genre and Marvel in particular go off the rails and annoy the hell out of its fans at regular intervals. This comes, however, from a focus on art, rather than sales, and putting writers and artists in charge of the property, rather than businessmen. This is why comics are such a rich vein for Hollywood to mine.

Marvel, however, are bringing this formula into Hollywood and this makes them the most creative, sure-fire studio in business at the minute; all of which bodes very, very well for the upcoming Captain America, The Avengers, and the studio as a whole. Just don't forget to stick around after the credits for your regular preview of the next episode....

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