Monday, 10 October 2011

Film Review | Thor, dir. Kenneth Branagh

"From the studio that brought you Iron Man" comes a blockbuster adaptation variously described as "the best comic book movie of the year" and "the next great superhero franchise," amongst other such acclaim. So of course I had to see it. I mean, I'm all for a bit of fun... and I like comic books, superheroes, and at least the first Iron Man movie. Thus the high hopes.

The hype didn't hurt, either; nor the not-a-little surprising crossover between it and what collective critical opinion arose as regards Marvel Studios' latest tentpole. Most everyone seemed to agree: Thor was "thunderously good fun."

Lies. All lies.

Thor might not be utter drivel, but it's only a hammer's breadth away. Fans of empty-headed, anonymous action may come away from it happy - and more power to 'em - but I truly struggle to see how so many critics whose opinions tend to tally with mine think Thor in any sense worthy of such praise as was lavished upon it.

To be sure, Thor is, if not quite a minor-league superhero, then still a ways away from the comic book franchises the medium lies and dies by: namely Batman, Spider-man, Superman, The X-Men and so on and so forth. Drawn of course from Norse mythology, though much diluted, Thor is the son of Odin, ruler of Asgard - a magnificent alien world far from Earth - and half-brother to Loki, the trickster God.

Needless to say, in the 50 years Thor and Thor's extended family have been a mainstay in the Marvel universe, more has happened to him and his than an origin story, and though this adaptation lays some of the groundwork for what will surely come (in 2012 in The Avengers, and the summer after in Thor 2), by and large esteemed Shakespearean director Kenneth Branagh's adaptation hones close to the very beginnings of this character, content to establish the people, the powers, and the place of the God of Thunder in the larger Marvel canon.

In Asgard, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins spinning his wheels) ails, and each in their way, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) vie for the crown: Thor through brute force and general brattishness, by attacking Asgard's ancient enemy - the Frost Giants of Jotunheim - and so starting a war to end all wars (or not), meanwhile Loki... well sure, Loki has a few tricks up his sleeve, too. In short order, anyway, Odin strips Thor of his powers, and banishes the entitled idiot to Earth to learn a lesson in humility. Not a moment too soon, I'd say. 

However, while Thor's coming to grips with a trio of scientists who might be able to help him get his mojo back - among them an enthusiastic Natalie Portman as comic book mainstay Jane Foster (a nurse in the comic books, as I recall), daddy Skarsgård doing a passable daddy Skarsgård, and a completely wasted Kat Dennings out of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - in Asgard, Loki scares Odin into a space coma and takes the throne. He's a right baddie, that Loki!

Actually, no. No, he's not. He's an absolute nothing. He's no more menacing than Thor's silly blonde neckbeard. Nor do the Frost Giants ever seem a real threat. And though there are many, many problems with Thor - among them a formulaic and deeply disinterested cast; cheap-looking, unconvincing costuming and to a lesser extent set-dressing; an uninspired script at odds with nothing so much as itself; and a director who, despite his estimable reputation, seems sure that dutching a couple of camera angles amounts to a "style" - this laughable attempt at imbuing events with some sense of jeopardy stands uppermost among them. For what is a hero without a villain? An alpha without an omega? Salt without pepper, except an accessory to vinegar?

Thor does have its moments: a few of the money-shot set-pieces the script tries and fails to stitch together are at least visually astonishing, The Wire's Irdis Elba proves commanding even in a supporting role, and as the God of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth equips himself as well in comedic moments - of which there are a few - as he does with Mjolnir in his hand. But given the mindless, camp-as-can-be nonsense that this adaptation is at even the best of times, I am surprised - shocked if not appalled - that Thor has left so many seemingly sensible opinion-makers insensible.

How far the mighty have fallen...

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