Kenneth Branagh brings Marvel’s Thor to the big screen with mixed results. Chris Hemsworth’s golden-haired man-mountain is the superhero fish-out-of-water who has to save the world this time.
Thor was released in 2011 along with another Marvel comic book film adaptation Captain America. They were the fourth and fifth movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk preceding them, and The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World arriving later. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), like his counterpart superheroes, makes his arrival on the big screen with an origins story that begins with him being banished from his homeland Asgard by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
It transpires that Thor ignored his father’s orders not to ignite conflict with Asgard’s old foe The Frost Giants of Jotunheim which ultimately dents Thor’s chances of ascending the throne. He’s stripped of his powers, and his trademark hammer, and sent to Earth to cool off. Meanwhile, on Asgard, his deceitful brother Loki (Tom Huddleston) is cooking up his own plan to overthrow Odin, in part because of his jealousy towards Thor. At the same time, his blond-haired older sibling is bumbling around New Mexico getting hit by cars and wooing Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster by, it appears, removing his shirt.
Actor-director Kenneth Branagh is behind the camera telling everyone what to do and, not being the obvious candidate for this project (Sam Raimi and Matthew Vaughan were both involved with the film adaptation at one point or another), he unsurprisingly delivers an uneven, tonally haphazard film that fails to get the best out of either its hero or villain. Certainly, there’s a lot of backstory to cram into this two-hour movie and he manages to get the message across in a way that holds the attention, without overdoing the exposition. But, the film does take half an hour to really get going, and when he moves the action to earth you’re jerked to attention by Branagh’s switch in tone. The otherworldly setting of Thor’s homeland Asgard, it’s Norse mythology inspiring copious amounts of scene chewing and seriousness, is discarded for knockabout comedy that sees the joke on a now mortal Thor as earth’s comparably primitive, superpower-less methods keep defeating him. Note the tranquiliser that puts him to sleep when he starts fighting with doctors trying to help him.
Perhaps that I found the most entertaining parts of Thor to be its throwaway comedy (yes, Jane Foster knocking Thor over with her car made me laugh), highlights my problem with it. Maybe another director such as Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) or Shane Black (Iron Man 3) could have worked the humour into the film more evenly, or simply given us more of it. Yet, I’m not sure ridiculing Thor’s flaws on earth is conducive to him becoming earth’s saviour, or indeed, a great cinematic superhero.
When he gets his powers there is a sense of anticlimax. The film doesn’t build to a great showdown with the enemy, and Loki is left to do much of his villainous activities in the background. When superheroes descend on a New Mexico middle-of-nowhere desert town their foe appears in the form of automaton The Destroyer. This innocuous walking piece of grinding metal might have size of its side but not much else. There is a sense, therefore, the film is building towards Loki’s real showdown with his brother in future adventures. He is, after all, the chief antagonist in The Avengers, which conveniently follows this film in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s chronological story.
Admittedly, Thor successfully delivers laughs and some solid action sequences, while in Loki it has one of the best superhero villains to make their mark in the Marvel movies (Huddleston deserves all the praise he has had for his performance). However, despite an interesting underlying theme consisting of Thor re-establishing his relationship (and his worth) to his father, the story fails to build to a crescendo. This is in part because Loki remains too enigmatic, his evil deeds remaining in the land of the magic rather than the land of mortals. Therefore, we don’t get a sense of impending global doom, with Thor seemingly having to save only himself. I think much of the blame has to fall on the director, a view seemingly echoed by the studio which replaced Branagh with Alan Taylor for Thor’s second adventure in Thor: The Dark World.