fri 19/07/2024

Thor | reviews, news & interviews



3D graphics and 2D gods: Marvel's version of Norse myth is best when earthbound

Norse code: Chris Hemsworth romances Natalie Portman the old legendary way in 'Thor'

As genres go, it’s a broad church: the tale of the alien who visits our world (our world obviously being contemporary America) encompasses everything from The Man Who Fell to Earth to Galaxy Quest. The story tends to riff on the same tension: how our planet shapes up in the eyes of intergalactic visitors. It can be done for laughs, for thrills, even for tears (see, if you are indeed an alien and haven't already, ET).

Thor, in which the titular Norse god is exiled to small-town New Mexico, makes a play for all three.

Does it work? Are you kidding? Like, does Thor swing a mean hammer? Well actually, being deprived of his divine powers for much of the movie, he kind of doesn’t (pictured below). This is Kenneth Branagh’s first return to directing since a trio of films opened a few years ago all within a few weeks and met with a frosty reception. After Shakespeare (As You Like It), Mozart (The Magic Flute) and Pinter (who adapted Antony Shaffer’s Sleuth), he’s here catering for the multiplex with a story taken not so much from the Norse sagas and somewhat more from that reliable fount of big-screen myths, Marvel Comics.

We begin in Asgard in AD 965 (NB not Valhalla, which is where you probably thought these hairy-arsed mead-swilling horn-helmeted Nordic beefcakes hung out). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is all set to inherit the crown from Odin (Anthony Hopkins) when there’s a sudden threat from the defeated race of Frost Giants that the impetuous young princeling, quietly egged on by his saturnine younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), chooses to deal with. He and his posse make a bit of a Horlicks of it and Thor is duly banished through the swishy space-time-continuum portal thingy guarded by Idris Elba down to – guess where? - the wild American West, star date 2011.

Chris hemsworth in ThorThor's entry into the Earth’s atmosphere creates the mother and father of magnetic storms which a trio of interference-monitoring renegade scientists are out reading with their van-load of jerry-built equipment. These being figures from the Marvel/Tinseltown school of lab geek, two of them are total babes (Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings) while the other one is helpfully a bit of an expert in Norse mythology (Stellan Skarsgård’s agent can feel thoroughly vindicated for hawking his Scandy client’s CV round Burbank). The beauteous hulk they encounter in the desert wilderness is soon fluent in the local ways, give or take the odd curious reference to "realms" and a tendency to smash crockery when sober.

This is actually the most enjoyable part of the movie, so much so that it feels like a film that got away. When Thor is captured attempting to retrieve his hammer (also flung out of Asgard by his angry dad as a reminder of his churlishness), the FBI assume that only an agent trained by the Axis of Evil could beat up so many of their spooks. “Steroids,” shrugs Skarsgård when deftly springing him. Later there’s a lovely knowing moment when more Norse warriors descending on New Mexico to bring back Thor are taken for fancy dress fans of Xena and Jackie Chan. The perfunctory romance between Portman and Hemsworth also works best when played for laughs. Portman has been in some awful dogs after that Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan but, overtly lusting after Hemsworth, she is allowed to be funnier here than in any performance since Garden State. Dennings is also a complete hoot as her sidekick.

Sometimes you just wish they’d not bothered with the colouring in and let you look at the blue screen instead

However, it’s a different story up in Asgard, whither Thor returns to take on the dastardly Loki in a joke-free environment where characters deliver their lines with maximum portentousness (if they’ve got any, that is: nice to see Rene Russo as Thor’s mum; would have been nicer still if she’d got to open her mouth). These sections of the film feel like flicking through the pre-production storyboard drawings. Asgard is a shiny sort of Neverland, a bunch of geometrical diagrams in gleaming gold and brooding shadows peopled by vast crowds of computer-generated figurines, plus a few actors who look sort of weirdly unreal against all this cyber-cardboard scenery. As the whizzy time-travel graphics and flashy fight scenes smash and scream importantly the other side of your 3D specs, sometimes you just wish they’d not bothered with the colouring in and let you look at the blue screen instead. For the fight scenes I kind of fancied joining Hopkins, who spends much of the movie in a catatonic stupor known round these Nordic parts as The Odin Sleep. But then I’m not 15.

Tom Hiddleston in ThorBranagh’s presence is a reassurance. In the bits of the film where he can influence the outcome – ie away from the SFX – he steers between the two worlds with as sure a hand as the screenplay (written by an unlistably long committee) allows. He cut his teeth all those years ago getting people to queue around the block to see Shakespeare, and here he applies a light sprinkling of classical heft, principally through Hiddleston (pictured above) and Hopkins, both of whom do a convincing job of pretending that a tale of patriarchy and fraternal rivalry is straight out of King Lear.

Thor should do well. And it will be back, the sequel having been ruthlessly cued up in the afterburn of a slightly anticlimactic final showdown. You hope it spends more time being earthbound among ordinary mortals, which is where all the fun is. But it looks very much as if Portman and co will be heading to CGI land, star date AD 965, where even the finest 3D specs can't stop the world looking irredeemably 2D.


Brothers (2010). Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal duke it out on the domestic battlefield

Black Swan (2011). OTT, Grand Guignol, horrid, and hilariously enjoyable - it's ballet, up to a point

Natalie Portman in Your HighnessYour Highness (2011). Gross-out comes to medieval England. Here's hoping it bought a return ticket

No Strings Attached (2011). Natalie Portman isn't the only girl to swoon over cute Ashton Kutcher

Knight of Cups (2016). Terrence Malick's first movie shot in LA is a star-studded disappointment

Jackie (2017). One brief shining moment that was known as Camelot: how the Kennedy legacy was born


Watch the trailer for Thor

There’s a lovely knowing moment when Norse warriors descending on New Mexico are taken for fancy dress fans of Xena and Jackie Chan

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I’ve just seen the movie here in Australia. It was better than I thought it would be. Better, I think, than some of the reviews. Hopkins was a convincing Odin and Hemsworth was a pretty good Thor. As an Aussie science fiction writer: I’ve written some Thor fan fiction. Scroll down below my author profile to see over 40 stories:

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