Kenneth Branagh's Thor
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Summer blockbuster season finally kicks into gear with the release of “Thor,” based on the popular Marvel comic superhero. “Thor” is merely the first in a long line of superhero films that are coming out in the next year or two that includes “Captain America,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “The Avengers,” and I’m glad to say that this trend has started off with a bang as “Thor” delivers pretty much what you’d want from an exciting-looking superhero film.
Beginning in a realm known as Asgard, it tells the story of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). On the day that Thor is to be named the official heir to the throne, there is a attack from a small group of enemy forces from the realm of Jodenheim, where a race of ice beings live. They attempt to take back an energy source that Odin and his soldiers had seized, but are easily stopped by security measures. In a rage, Thor wants to strike back and destroy the enemy once and for all, but Odin rejects the notion. However, this doesn’t stop Thor and a group of his friends from going to Jodenheim anyway.
After being rescued from overwhelming odds by Odin, Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), scientists who have been tracking the energy used by the Asgardians for their travel between worlds. Thor, who is not used to such a way of life, must get used to living on Earth, while his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) fills in as heir to the throne. However, more problems arise as the mysterious SHIELD agency shows up to steal Jane’s research, as well as a sinister plot slowly unveiled on Asgard.
While there are several superhero movies yet to be released, “Thor” stood out from the pack for one specific reason. It was announced early on that it was to be directed by none other than Kenneth Branagh. My first reaction was to ask if this was the same Kenneth Branagh who had brought us wonderful adaptations of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “As You Like It.” THAT Kenneth Branagh? What could a guy like that, whose background is in Shakespearean plays and films, possibly do with a big budget action film like “Thor?”
Surprisingly, he handles the film quite admirably, and even shows a skill for handling complex action sequences. One of the biggest problems with actions films today is that many action scenes tend to be thrown together in a blurred, choppy rush sometimes due to the direction and sometimes because of the editing. However, the action here is quite clear cut and is exciting to watch. The well-done action sequences include, of course, several scenes of Thor swinging around his infamous hammer, as well as the use of other magical devices by his companions (this is a world where, as Thor says, science and magic are one and the same), and even some hand-to-hand combat.
One of the major things that really helps bring “Thor” to life is the magnificent production design by Bo Welch. The beautiful designs of Asgard and the decaying ruins of Jodenheim are spectacular and go a long way towards helping make the film a little more believable than it otherwise would have been. Granted, a lot of it is CGI, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the titular character is also noteworthy. He’s relatively new to film, having only appeared in a small handful of roles, and like everyone else, is still awaiting a real release date for his long-delayed “Cabin in the Woods.” He brings a nice touch of humanity to a character that originally starts out as extremely arrogant, but eventually finds out what it means to be a leader while exiled on Earth. He also provides several light comedic moments. While they’re not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, they are amusing. You have to expect some awkward moments when he comes to Earth. It’s not every day they get a visit from an Asgardian.
Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins gives a powerful performance as Odin, Thor’s father. His character is one of great wisdom, wisdom that he hopes his sons will eventually come to learn, but once he sees that vengeance burns in Thor’s eyes after the attack, he is noticeably heartbroken at his son’s lack of it. He may not be in the film very much, but he makes a lasting impression nonetheless.
Overall, “Thor” reminded me a lot of the “Iron Man” films. They are not particularly great, but they are highly entertaining with their explosive action sequences and fascinating characters. With the critical and financial success of “Thor” thus far, I think it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing another solo film for him after his duties in “The Avengers” are finished. I look forward to a sequel as well as the next batch of superhero films. The summer movie season has only just begun. There’s still a whole lot more to see. 3/4 stars.
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