Kicking off 2011’s summer of big-budget blockbusters is superhero flick “Thor,” probably one of the most challenging stories for Marvel Studios to adapt onto the silver screen from the pages of a comic book. This is not necessarily because of the arguably second-rate awareness of the eponymous character himself, but because creating “Thor” requires one to create a fantasy world, another dimension which must convince and adequately intrigue general movie-goers. Unlike the company’s recent cinematic triumphs such as “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor” takes place partially in a realm separate from our own, one with its own rich history and logic, and to build this calls for an ambience of epicness, which director Kenneth Branagh has thankfully relished in.
This world of which I speak is Asgard, which is located in a magical dimension that is certainly not our own. Its design is of polished gold, its grand kingdom furnished specifically for a noble king. This king is Odin (Anthony Hopkins, “The Wolfman”), a white-bearded god with a metallic eye patch covering his right peeper. He has a wife, Frigga (Rene Russo, “Yours, Mine and Ours”), and two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Star Trek”) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “Archipelago”).
Thor is the eldest of the two brothers, and is thus heir to the powerful thrown. As pointed out by his father, he is arrogant, vain, greedy and cruel. He wears a red cape and wields a powerful hammer called Mjolnir, a mighty mallet that can cause more damage than when a packet of Mentos is dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke. Seriously, that combination can take an eye out.
After a breach in Asgard’s security almost leads to the theft of a sacred artefact, Thor decides to take matters into his own massive hands, and (despite his father’s insistence that it would do no good) attempts revenge on the evil Frost Giants (just go with it). Following his defiance, Thor is banished from Asgard for the trouble he has caused and the war he has resparked, stripped of his armour and his beloved power-giving hammer.
He winds up on Earth, in the New Mexico desert to be exact, and meets mortal scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård, “Mamma Mia!”) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, “Defendor”). Assuming the rambling Norse god is a deluded drunk, they zap him with a tazer and take him to the hospital, where he inflicts some unprovoked violence on the unsuspecting staff. From here on, the trio are stuck with a man they believe to be a schizophrenic nutcase, but become more and more convinced by his claims that he is indeed Thor, god of thunder and son of Odin, as he tries to get back into Asgard and hold his enormous tool in his hand once again. I can hear you sniggering.
Meanwhile, in Thor’s homely kingdom, Loki sees his chance to become ruler of Asgard, what with dad’s favourite son being cast down to Earth. He is determined that his overshadowing brother never returns from his exile, while the god of mischief plots to take over the reigning role of his elderly father. Maybe he got bored of taking over Jim Carrey’s body and dancing to jazz music with Cameron Diaz. SSSMOKIN’!
“Thor” is high camp, with Norse gods marching about in glistening armour and horned helmets that look neck-crushingly heavy, yelling at each other in perfectly stated Shakespearean English. The scenes in the grandiose kingdom of Asgard may have run the risk of being pretty darn laughable, but there’s an unexpected sternness to them that counteracts any possible corniness. If anything, the scenes on Earth are cheesier than that of the alien realm. Also, it’s difficult to not get caught up in what is ultimately a very fascinating world unlike our own, all rendered in beautiful CGI.
In true blockbuster fashion, the film is a special-effect spectacle that’s bursting at the seems with computerised trickery, all showcased in post-converted 3D (which I should add is barely noticeable after a while). This is not only utilised to create the fantasy world of Asgard, but also the menacing robotic Destroyer, guardian of a sacred Asgardian artifact, his head opening up to blast out a raging fireball that roasts any nearby enemies. There’s also the cold-as-ice Frost Giants, a whole species of monsters who live in a land made of ice (Jotunheim, not Iceland). Their skin is chilled blue, and their eyes are as red as the cheeks of a schoolboy who’s just had his trousers yanked down to his ankles in the playground. These creatures will chill you to the bone. Literally.
Our godly hero is played stunningly by hunky Hemsworth, bringing a knowing sense of cheek and swagger to the hammer-thumping role. The Australian actor, standing at 6’3″ tall, is a mammoth of a man, bound in muscles and oozing with genuine on-screen charisma, making for an enthralling and amusing protagonist for us to root for. When he dons his helmet, swings his hammer and yells at the top of his lungs, you know this man means serious business.
There’s also Hopkins and Hiddleston as a father and son who struggle to connect with each other, the father always having favoured his older boy. Hopkins is not as hammy as usual, his character’s status as a god fulfilled by the sheer gravitas of Mr. Hannibal Lecter’s performance. Hiddleston manages to get across a sense of jealousy over the attention Thor receives, which raises his ambitions to show ‘em all what he’s made of and rule the whole of Asgard all by himself, while yearning to impress his father.
Given that this is English director Kenneth Branagh’s first real venture outside of Shakespeare adaptations and period dramas, “Thor” is ruddy impressive. He gives a full sense of a truly epic scope, perfectly balancing moments of fantastical absurdity with moments of lighthearted fish-out-of-water humour (like when Thor charges into a pet store and demands to be given a horse). The film is also tantalising when the action kick-starts and the hammers fly, the more adrenaline-pumped sequences suitably thrilling. I wasn’t sure if Branagh could handle it all, but by Odin’s beard, he does. He should calm down on all the Dutch tilts, though; they damn near gave me a headache.
In the run-up to next year’s massively anticipated “The Avengers,” “Thor” gives more promise to the mouth-watering prospect of the on-screen team-up of Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor. However, the film doesn’t feel like one big advertisement (ahem, “Iron Man 2″) for the big event, instead simply taking on the role of a magnificent, technically-impressive comic-book fantasy that excites, enchants and thoroughly entertains. You’re up next, Captain America. Don’t disappoint us.
Nine Outta Ten