Thor made me feel like a little kid again, reading Walt Simonson comics about the God of Thunder bounding about the universe like a beer-swilling frat boy, learning lessons in humility that belied his divinity. I might be a little bit biased towards the new film from Marvel Studios, which adapts one of my favorite comic book characters to the silver screen, but that doesn’t mean I went into the theater ready to like it. It just means that I went into the theater praying – to Thor, naturally – that it wouldn’t suck. Thor must have been listening, because the movie based on his life is expertly adapted from the comics. It’s the best Marvel movie since Iron Man, and proof positive that superhero movies can be one of the most diverse genres around.
Chris Hemsworth stars as the mighty Thor, son of Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins). After a brief and only slightly hokey introduction to the world of Asgard, Thor disobeys his father’s wishes and takes a quartet of adventurers – including The Warriors Three, who get a surprisingly large amount of screen time (that’s a pleasant surprise, incidentally) – as well as his brother Loki (relative newcomer Tom Hiddleston) to the land of the Frost Giants for a fantastic showdown between gods and monsters. When his actions lead to war, Odin punishes Thor by sending him to Midgard, aka Earth. Stripped of his powers, Thor must overcome his character flaws while struggling to live in the human world, aided by a group of scientists played by Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings and the increasingly charismatic Natalie Portman. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki reveals his true nature and a Shakespearean saga of deception and familial backstabbing unfolds.
The Shakespeare comparison is to be expected from a film by Kenneth Branagh, a man famous for his theatrical adaptations of Henry V and Hamlet (amongst other works by the bard), and Thor bears striking resemblances to his earlier works whenever the action takes place on Asgard, where broad pronouncements and screaming tirades seem to flow naturally from godlike beings. Less expected is Branagh’s deft hand at both action and comedy (Peter’s Friends notwithstanding): Thor’s thrilling battles with giant robots and monsters are as grand as they are memorable, and are balanced neatly with the fine comic timing of Kat Dennings and repeated humorous asides of the God of Thunder cheerfully misunderstanding the world of men, walking into a pet store and asking for a horse and, when no horse is to be found, asking for a cat, dog or bird that is large enough to ride.
It’s Thor’s cheer that sets him apart from the majority of on-screen superheroes to date. Chris Hemsworth understands that Thor is a brash but lovable hooligan, whose heart is in the right place even when his head is on vacation. He leaps merrily into action assuming his might will overcome any obstacle, never stopping to think about the consequences of his actions. That lunkheadedness is his greatest flaw, not self-doubt or any of the other emo psycho-nightmares most heroes suffer from these days, is a refreshing change of pace. His identity is not divided. Fighting giants is not his break from humdrum reality, it is his reality, and it informs even the most mundane aspects of his life. He is the embodiment of escapism, and Branagh wisely surrounds him with a likeminded film that incorporates love, treachery, rainbow bridges and sci-fi nonsense with wondrous aplomb. Hiddleston also strikes a fine figure as his counterpart, the duplicitous Loki, whose true motivations are never entirely delineated from his many lies. Is he a child crying out for attention or nothing more than a Machiavellian monster? Hiddleston embodies the God of Trickery so thoroughly that we can’t even trust him far enough to make up own minds about it.
With superior action sequences, fine performances, a great sense of humor and grand sense of genuine adventure, Thor stands out from the host of other superhero movies and may be one of the most purely entertaining comic book adaptations to date. The in-jokes are few and unobtrusive, the surprise cameo is memorable if obviously tacked on in post, and the world Branagh crafts is beautiful and distinctive. The 3D neither aids nor harms the film, making one wonder why they even bothered (beyond making tons of money, obviously), and the IMAX presentation is strong (albeit a total lie since the film wasn’t shot in 70mm). But whether you view Thor with or without 3D glasses, you’re in for one hell of a spectacle.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to stay through the credits. It’s a Marvel movie after all.
Crave Online Rating: 9/10