By the power of Greyskull! Hang on…
When it was announced there was going to be an individual movie for Avenger Thor, the mystical Norse God of Thunder, I was extremely dubious. How could they pull it off? Then I saw they assigned Kenneth Branagh to direct, and all was well in my mind. Branagh’s filmography include Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and the critically lauded 1996 Hamlet adaptation, so Thor is a pretty logical next step. Even then the Thunder God, steadfast in Norse mythology, was probably the most risky Avenger to bring to the big screen; it could’ve been unintentionally funny, the worst death any film can die. So how did it turn out?
Beginning with an engrossing stay in Asgard for most of the first act, we see the family ties and cracks, and the realm of Asgard’s impossible splendour. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a cocky would-be king, if it were only for the Frost Giants; mortal enemies of Asgard, they attack at the most untimely moment, forcing Thor to rally his own small band of warriors – but subsequently breaking his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) trust. A banishment to Earth, a chance meeting with sceptical astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman) later, and the newly mortal Thor finds himself attempting to regain his hammer Mjolinir – the source of his power – from SHIELD, a secret organisation that makes its appearance through the Avenger’s films.
Thor’s exile on our lowly planet is an often funny thing to watch – but mostly it’s humbling for our god who has been sure of himself his entire existence. The neat change in tone works well – and the rift between magic and science is addressed in the romance between Jane and Thor. Him bellowing ‘You dare challenge the mighty Thor!’ while being apprehended by hospital staff is one of many examples of hilarity. Branagh makes sure that little bits like this let us know it’s never taking itself too seriously – and in turn, becomes all the more fun for it. The action scenes are great too, on that note: the initial fight against the Frost Giants being a highlight, and hammer Mjolnir’s own violent life is constantly entertaining.
But Thor’s strength is also the director’s fortitude: the Asgardian sequences of betrayal, love and deceit feel suitably bolstered in their timelessness – it indeed plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy. Loki has ulterior motive upon ulterior motive; and Odin, played by a seemingly rejuvenated Hopkins, has his own dark secrets.
Marvel Studios, kudos. How else are you going to handle the colossal themes of father-son monarchy and brotherly rivalry in the fantastical world of Asgard? Get someone who knows Shakespeare like the back of his hand to hold the reins, duh. Thor, Odin and Loki? Easy stuff.