Kenneth Branagh was definitely the right man for the job for directing Thor.
Ever since Marvel started their own film adaptations, their choice of directors for each film have certainly been interesting. Neither Jon Favreau or Louis Letterier would’ve been the first guys to come to mind to helm Iron Man and Incredible Hulk respectively. Joe Johnston, who’s directing Captain America coming in July, is a little more obvious choice, thanks to a lot of his previous movies with their special effects drive. Joss Whedon, who’s doing next year’s Avengers is the only one so far that is overtly obvious, being a huge fan favorite for his previous genre work.
But Kenneth Branagh on Thor? On paper, with his Shakespearean background (which includes the film adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, my personal favorite, his four-hour epic version of Hamlet, and non-Shakespearean films like the thriller Dead Again and the Coppola-produced Frankenstein), he certainly seems interesting, but would he get it? Would he be able to come in and make a big-screen adaptation that could capture the awe of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work and still retain some humanity?
Oh hell, yes. He certainly gets it and I just hope this isn’t his only time to get to handle the character.
Thor tells the story of this god of Norse Myth, who in his arrogance and defiance of his father, Odin, is cast out of the fabled realm of Asgard and sent to Earth to learn a lesson in humility. While on Earth, Thor meets with a small team of scientists, led by an astrophysicist named Jane Foster in who he finds an almost immediate attraction. Upon being cast out from Asgard, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir is also sent to Earth where no one can lift it, thanks to a spell put on it by Odin. The Hammer becomes an object of definite interest to the secret organization known as SHIELD. Now, Thor must retrieve his hammer and all the while, his brother Loki plots to take control of Asgard.
Now I have top admit, out of all of Marvel’s characters, Thor wasn’t always a big favorite of mine. That changed when writer/artist Walt Simonson took over the comic back in the early 80s, and later I started to develop a better appreciation for him, in particular the earlier works by the aforementioned Stan Lee and jack Kirby. This movie combines a lot of previous comic book elements to cast a new origin of sorts for Thor, though to be honest, I have no idea of what really counts for his origin in the comics these days. There are some things here I could certainly quibble with (primarily Jane Foster being an astrophysicist and Loki not quite being as initially malevolent as I’ve known him to be), but overall, I think Branagh and company have presented something that could be palatable to both comic fans and non-comic fans.
Where Branagh really shines for me is when he’s dealing with Thor on Asgard. This might be the closest I think we’ve ever seen, or could hope to see, the grandeur of Jack Kirby’s artwork translated to a live-action movie. From battles with Frost Giants to the climactic battle with Loki, Kenneth Branagh looks like he’s having a great deal of fun creating this world.
Now it’s not perfect, there’s a few plot holes here and there and on a personal level, I would’ve liked to have seen more of the look of the comics show up here with some brighter yellows in some of the costuming and more use of Thor’s winged helmet. But other than the plot holes, that’s a personal preference and doesn’t really affect the overall look of the movie.
Branagh skillfully weaves in other factors of this Marvel Universe being created for film and sets the huge scale for Thor. But it wouldn’t matter a lick if it’s title character wasn’t appealing. Chris Hemsworth plays Thor and he carries this movie and does it quite well. His Thor is both arrogant and charismatic and as this story progresses, he starts to display some real humanity as well. Hemsworth is really a guy to watch and look forward to seeing what he does next, not only with Thor but with other movies as well.
He’s backed up with a huge cast which includes Oscar-winners Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Portman has a real infectious drive as Foster, but more importantly she has great chemistry with Hemsworth, making their attraction quite believable. Hopkins has great presence as Odin, and there’s nothing really wrong with what he does here, but I almost would’ve preferred to have seen someone like a Max von Sydow in the part, as I just think his booming voice would’ve played better. But still, Hopkins does good, solid work here.
Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings play the parts of other members of Jane Foster’s team and they’re both good, with Dennings getting the funny lines (though they’re not obnoxious by any means). Clark Gregg keeps the continuity with the other Marvel films as SHIELD Agent Coulson. On the Asgard side, Idris Elba is a real standout for me as Heimdall, the guardian of the “bridge” Bifrost. Elba is just as stoic as can be and with that, you get the idea of real power behind this defender. Jaimie Alexander plays the warrior woman Sif and Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano and Ray Stevenson play the Warrior’s Three, Fanrdral, Hogun and Volstagg. These four are solid support for Hemsworth and certainly eat up their parts.
The only bit of casting that I have a little issue with is with Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Now, to be fair, Hiddleston doesn’t really do anything wrong here at all and certainly plays out to the vision of Loki that this film has. That vision though is not necessarily the one I’m used to from the comics. I’m used to Loki being a touch more sly and arrogant than what Hiddleston gives off here. Now he does get there by the film’s end, but I would’ve liked to have seen a little more of that from the start. I think someone like an Adrien Brody might’ve pulled that off a little better. This isn’t meant as a slam on Hiddleston at all, just a personal preference based on what I know of Loki through the comics.
Thor is currently being shown in both 3D and 2D. I opted to see this in 2D. I’ve seen a 3D version of the trailer and just wasn’t impressed by it at all. As dark as the film gets in some places, I’d almost expect that the 3D would just fall flat. And further, this wasn’t filmed in 3D so that certainly left me very wary of the whole thing. Before our showing of Thor started, I peeked in to one of the 3D rooms at our theatre showing this. It was a large room, with maybe fifty people or so in to see it that way. By contrast, our 9:15 showing of Thor had almost four times the amount of people in to see it. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come with movies that just have the 3D tacked on.
Another note, do not walk out as the end credits begin to role. As has been the case with the other Marvel movies, there is another scene at the end and this one is major in the set-up to The Avengers.
Thor is a whole lot of big fun. While it’s not the same sort of fun that I had with Fast Five, it’s no slouch either. Kenneth Branagh clearly gets it and delivers another facet to this expanding universe of Marvel films. This has a star-making performance from lead Chris Hemsworth and his support is very, very solid. The look of the movie is fantastic and I was left in awe of what Branagh did with Asgard. if this is a sign of things to come, I cannot wait to see Captain America in July and I certainly hope Branagh gets the chance to fly with Thor again. Highly, highly recommended.