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In Association with
Thor (2011)
Director: Kenneth Branagh

review by J.C. Hartley
Who'll direct our film; it's got us sorely vexed;
Superheroes in armour instead of spandex?
Why, ask Kenneth Branagh! Aye, and right merrily,
He's the go-to-guy for forsooth, and verily!

You've probably heard that, against expectations, this is pretty good, and Branagh successfully navigates the potential minefields of archaic language, and having Norse Gods turning up on present-day Earth. Apart from a couple of embarrassing early glitches, such as the Lady Sif saying "Oh, pur-lease," when Thor tosses his hammer during his coronation and a 'What did Thor ever do for us?' scene with the 'warriors three', Branagh displays a sure touch.

The story starts with a voiceover history of the war between Asgard and the frost giants, with the latter being exiled to Jotunheim, and their power source, the Casket of Ancient Winters, being confiscated. Pan out, to reveal that the All-Father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is recounting the tale to his young sons Thor and Loki.

The ceremony to confirm Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Kirk's dad in Star Trek) is interrupted by a stealth team of frost giants attempting to steal back the Casket; they are incinerated by the Destroyer, a metal golem with heat-vision. An incensed Thor determines to travel to Jotunheim to teach the giants a lesson and discover how they managed to sneak into Asgard. Despite the advice of his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), which in retrospect we are supposed to view as subtle manipulation; Thor, Loki, the warriors three, and Sif, persuade Heimdall (Idris Elba, The Losers), guardian of the rainbow bridge, to zip them over the Bifrost inter-dimensional link to the land of the frost giants.

A mighty scrap ensues, with Loki discovering he is impervious to the frosty grip of his adversaries, and Odin having to rescue the friends, but at the risk of a declaration of war. Thor is banished to Earth to learn humility, and the All-Father falls into the Odin-sleep after a family tiff with Loki, who has discovered he is spawn of the frosties and only an adopted hostage. I've got to say I always liked Loki in the comics, and in the myths as well; he's the hero of Das Rheingold after all.

In the comicbook, Thor was transformed into a lame human, Dr Donald Blake who, when bashing his walking-stick against the ground, was able to access his immortal alter-ego. This device was thankfully abandoned after a bit. The media at large see Thor as a minor Marvel character ramped-up for his part in the coming Avengers movie. I think Thor in the comics had quite a lot of fans, with his long hair, and the medieval turn of phrase, and the Jack Kirby psychedelic Asgard; there was enough to appeal to 1960s and 1970s sensibilities. And certainly the Walt Simonson stories in the 1980s were a superb emulsion of classic Norse mythology and modern super-heroics.

Thor crashes to Earth among a trio of storm-chasing astro-physicists led by the comely Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and including the Scandinavian Dr Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and comedic kook Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor's hammer Mjolnir crashes to Earth, where a variety of cameos including Stan Lee attempt to pick it up, before it is cordoned off by agents of SHIELD. Thor is befriended by the scientists and, after a failed attempt to reclaim his hammer, he's visited by Loki who tells him Odin is dead. Thor gradually learns humility, as charmingly played by Hemsworth, and he and Foster rather superficially fall for each other, although Darcy looks like she might be more fun. Thor has a fantastic physique and this seems to be a big motivation. Loki lets the frost giants attack Asgard and sends the Destroyer to Earth to kill Thor and the warriors three and Sif who have gone to get him. Thor reclaims Mjolnir, trashes the Destroyer, heads back to Asgard to confront Loki who has double-crossed his frosty allies. Loki reveals that all he wanted was his adoptive father's unconditional love but tumbles off the rainbow bridge as Odin attempts to save him and Thor.

In the now traditional post-credits sequence, Nick Fury shows Selvig what we must presume is the cosmic cube and Selvig, apparently under the control of Loki, expresses great interest in it - as you would. So, yes, this is pretty good, the effects work, and Hemsworth doesn't make Thor so bumptious and arrogant that you can't stand him. Some people have found Portman underwhelming but she does the job, and Hiddleston and Skarsgard win the acting credits although the latter is a bit of a moody Dane. There's going to be a sequel apparently, Avengers aside, to be directed by Patty Jenkins which would be interesting.


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