The trouble with making a film about Thor is that you are making an adaptation of a comic book that has run for 50 years which is itself based on ancient myths and legends. The comics have been written by numerous talented writers taking in many different variations on the character and include stories that adhere rigidly to the myths and are set in Asgard, or that are modern superhero stories with Thor in contemporary earth (Midgard) as well as cosmic comic book stories where Thor fights aliens in outer space. With the comics this all adds up to a rich, though often confusing, depth to the character and his history – something that tends to be true for most comic book characters that have lasted for a long time: there are debates about what is canon and what never really happened; things get re-imagined or revised – over 50 years these characters can develop and change tremendous amounts. When someone new takes over the Thor comic it is up to them to decide what aspects of the character they like and what they will focus on, and the success of the writer is usually dependent on how well they ‘get’ the character.
I think it is fair to say that Kenneth Branagh gets Thor. Sure, his interpretation of the character varies from the comic book versions (and from the myths) in some ways – for example this Thor does not have a body swapping scheme going on with Dr. Donald Blake – but he has the main points down pretty well. Its like how Christopher Nolan gets Batman – though Batman is a undoubtedly a more complicated character. The Thor film is both cosmic and mythical, incorporating a version of Asgard that is decidedly more sci-fi than the version seen in comics recently – it’s a shiny golden space fortress with a Bifröst bridge that looks like it is crafted from crystals and LEDs rather than rainbows. These Asgardians are spacemen, travelling to alien worlds with technology as well as gods with their magics, but then ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ as Arthur C. Clarke said.
I like the style of Asgard, it looks like Flash Gordon or Masters of the Universe, all glitter and glam – it’s very theatrical with the rooms looking like elaborate stage sets rather than complicated but forgettable cgi nonsense. Asgard seems like a real place where real alien gods live – and sure it’s all hideously tacky and you keep expecting Queen to start playing or Brian Blessed to pop up, but that’s quite refreshing when most fantasy these days is so bland and unimaginative. Compared to the dreadful Clash of the Titans for example, Thor undoubtedly has a lot more style.
So Thor is quite a simple character but portraying that simplicity without it turning into a farce or camp is always going to be hard – see the appearances of Thor in the 1988 Incredible Hulk Returns TV movie. I think they handle it pretty well here. The costume especially is fantastic though possibly a little plastic-y in places and I wish he would wear his helmet more often. I was very glad to see Loki in his helmet, it’s something that a more conservative director might have cut out as it does look quite outlandish. Thor’s interactions in Midgard are funny without being stupid and are kept to a minimum – such as him walking in front of traffic. This could easily have been overdone but instead the film concentrates on action. Everyone accepts Thor quite quickly and gets on with things.
The action is well done, the Destroyer fight being a highlight I think even if it is a bit brief. I preferred the action set on Midgard to the cgi heavy fighting on Jotenheim, home of the Frost Giants. I watched the film in 3D and frankly it’s a tiresome technology that adds nothing to a film like this. Occasionally the tricks with forcing focus just meant that the little people looked like toy railway models – sometimes this just looked ludicrous like tilt-shifted photography. I would suggest seeing it in 2D if you have the option, but then the people I was with liked the 3D so perhaps that is just me.
The acting is all very good. The Warriors Three and Sif were quite forgettable but Heimdall – played by Idris Elba – was a fantastic presence and perfect for the role despite what some racists might say. It’s strange to see Tadanobu Asano, one of the best actors in the world in my opinion, in such a minor part as Hogun and forced to speak English, the guy is a legend in Japanese cinema. Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins were all solid. I’m a big fan of Kat Denning even if she didn’t have much of a role – she made Natalie Portman a bit redundant here, and Tom Hiddleston was excellent as Loki.
Overall Thor is a very enjoyable blockbuster – it could so easily have been another travesty like Clash of the Titans but instead is more like a happy throwback to the golden age of action movies. The plot is lighthearted and the action is exciting but it never feels too shallow – a similar accomplishment to the best parts of the Iron Man films. It’s fun rather than important or ground breaking, but sometimes that is all you can ask from a film. If only more blockbusters were like this – hopefully Captain America: The First Avenger and the subsequent Avengers film will add to Marvel’s successes.