Thor 3D *****
Thor 2D *****
Ever since the first Iron Man movie mentioned S.H.I.E.L.D and a post credits scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury spoke of “The Avenger Initiative”, the greater Marvel Comics universe has been hinted at in the superhero films produced by Marvel’s own in house film studio Marvel Studios. Through the course of both Iron Man films, in particular the second one, and, to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios has been building up to something, something big, and their grand design is starting to fall into place as we finally get to meet some big hitting superheroes from world of Marvel Comics who have never before been brought to the big screen. With their big event The Avengers, the first superhero movie ever to see superheroes from different film franchises team-up, scheduled for release in summer 2012, the stage is set for what might just be the biggest superhero movie ever made. Before that, though, it is time to meet some of the other members of The Avengers.
We have already been introduced to the likes of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Nick Fury but this summer we get to meet two of the other big hitting members of the team – Captain America and Thor, the latter being the first to enter release in cinemas. If the name Thor sounds at all familiar it is likely because, in real world myth, Thor was one of the gods of Norse mythology, the God of Thunder to be precise, and it is a myth that has provided inspiration for other films and TV shows over the years, the best known probably being TV series Stargate SG-1 in which Thor was a member of an alien race known as the Asgard and his legendary weapon, Thor’s Hammer, was actually a weapon designed to protect the indigenous population of a planet from an alien threat. As inspirations for superheroes go, real life myths, least of all ones from Norse mythology, might not seem like an obvious source but Marvel legend Stan Lee, in trying to create a superhero even stronger then the Hulk, decided that the best way to make someone stronger than the strongest person was to not make him human at all but rather make him a god and, with readers already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods, he decided it would be fun to delve into Norse legends. And so, Thor was born and, since originally being published in 1962, the character has lived on as one of the major members of The Avengers.
The film adaptation of Thor has been stuck in development hell for a very long time with several directors having been attached to direct over the years including Sam Raimi, who went on to direct the Spider-Man films, David S. Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins and penned the story for The Dark Knight, and most recently Matthew Vaughn, who has since gone on to direct superhero films Kick-Ass and this year’s X-Men: First Class. After Vaughn left the project in May 2008, however, the film finally gained some momentum with the announcement of perhaps the most unlikely director to ever make a superhero movie – Kenneth Branagh. A filmmaker best known for making Shakespeare adaptations such as Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It and low key comedies and dramas like Dead Again, Peter’s Friends, Frankenstein, In the Bleak Midwinter and Sleuth, Branagh has never before made a big budget effects movie nor has he ever really shown much interest in doing so, so why did he take on the task of directing Thor? The answer is simple – it means something to him. As a child, Branagh was a big fan of the Thor comics after having come across them while growing up in Belfast and, as a result, Thor is the singular superhero movie that he would ever consider making.
For this reason alone, Thor should be a film that pleases fans of the comic book that it is based upon – not forgetting, also, that this film is set within the same universe as the other films produced by Marvel Studios and, like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, is connected to them through the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D in the storyline with Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, who featured prominently in the scenes during Iron Man 2 that lead into the events of Thor, in particular the scene after the credits showing the arrival of Thor’s Hammer Mjolnir, returning – but Branagh’s involvement means a lot more than that. For starters, it means that Thor is much more classy and sophisticated than your typical superhero movie, him having conceptualised it as a Norse/comic book twist on William Shakespeare’s Henry V, something which actually perfectly suits the style of Thor, the character being a god and all. Branagh’s mere involvement in the film has also attracted a number of high profile actors to the film, the cast featuring such well known and respected actors as Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo and Kat Dennings. The leading role, however, despite having had numerous big names attached to it, including Brad Pitt, Channing Tatum, Triple H, Daniel Craig and Kevin McKidd, went to a relative unknown in the form of Chris Hemsworth. Australian actor Hemsworth, who before 2009 was probably best known for Australian soaps Neighbours and Home and Away, broke out with his brief but significant role as the doomed George Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie and, ever since he was announced as the actor who would be playing Thor, everything about him has seemed perfect for the role. In fact, thus far, it is hard to find anything to really dislike about the way the film has progressed, the marketing having established it as one of the most eagerly anticipated blockbusters of summer 2011 and already inspired confidence that it may actually be one of the best as well, something already well supported by the sensational reviews it has attained thus far.
If there is one hammer in the works, though, it would be the decision to convert the film to 3D in the same fashion as The Last Airbender, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Green Hornet, all of which boasted 3D effects that were pretty lacklustre. It is a documented fact, though, that 3D conversions are getting better and Branagh, while reluctant to shoot in 3D – as it is this film is his first time doing a big budget effects movie and shooting in 3D as well might have been one challenge too far – has shown a reasonable display of confidence in the decision to convert it, suggesting hope for some decent 3D effects this time around. Regardless of whether or not the 3D is any good, though, the film itself certainly has much going for it. So, is the God of Thunder deserving of a majestic reception in cinemas or is the response more like to be a stormy one?
A warrior of great strength, yet impetuous and foolish, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is son of the all-powerful Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his queen Frigga (Rene Russo), who rules the gods in his kingdom of Asgard, one of the Nine Realms connected by Cosmic Tree of Life. Odin once led his army in a battle against the Frost Giants of Jotunheim and their leader Laufey (Colm Feore) who threatened to not only destroy Earth but take over all of the Nine Realms and defeated them, claiming their source of power, an artifact known as the Casket of Ancient Winters, and placing it in the protection of an invincible mechanical golem loyal to him known as The Destroyer. Ever since, an uneasy truce has existed between the worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim but when the Frost Giants find a way into Asgard and attempt to reclaim the Casket, the arrogant Thor reacts in the only way he knows, by going on the offensive. Permitted to pass by Heimdall (Idris Elba), the guardian of the bifrost, the bride that allows passage between the realms, and accompanied by brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as well as fellow warriors Sif (Jamie Alexander) and the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – Thor goes to Jotunheim with battle on his mind and reignites the ancient war between the two realms in the process.
For his arrogance and stupidity, Odin strips Thor of his power and exiles him to Earth as punishment, sending his weapon, the hammer Mjolnir which contains his powers but is protected by a spell preventing anyone who isn’t truly worthy of the its powers from wielding it, to Earth as well. Here, Thor meets a young scientist names Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who is working on cutting edge research along with her colleagues Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), research that Thor is literally right in the middle of. Jane strives to understand the enigmatic stranger who might just be the key to proving what her research is telling her but Thor is alien to the ways of humans and, despite now being powerless, he walks around as though he is still a god. When he hears that his hammer has been located, the first thing on his mind is to reclaim it and with it get his powers back but others have gotten to it first – the agents of top secret government organisation S.H.I.E.L.D under the command of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). S.H.I.E.L.D has taken a keen interest in the source of Thor’s power and, after Thor makes a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to reclaim it, they take a keen interest in him as well. Still arrogant, he needs to learn wisdom and restraint if he is to become worthy of wielding the power contained in his hammer and Jane might just hold the key to him changing his arrogant ways.
But time isn’t something he has a lot of. Back in Asgard, all is not well – Odin is close to death and the mischievous Loki has taken power, and he has a grand plan that could potentially see the annihilation of both Earth and Jotunheim. With Thor the only one who can stop Loki, Sif and the Warriors Three head to Earth to try and bring him back but Loki has sent The Destroyer after them to ensure that Thor does not return. With the fate of no less than three worlds at stake, can Thor learn stop being the reckless warrior god he always been and unleash the hero within?
Opening in New Mexico with Thor arriving on Earth and literally running into Jane, Erik and Darcy before the events briefly shift to Norway in 965 AD giving us background into the Frost Giants and their defeat at the hands of Odin’s army in a big battle sequence before moving on to Asgard and showing us the events leading up to Thor’s banishment, Thor is a film that hooks us from the very beginning and doesn’t let up for the duration. For starters, this is a film that looks truly sensational. The art, production and costume design are all stunning, the world of Asgard being lavishly realised on screen in the form of a world of golden elegance existing within the stars themselves that is visually epic, awe-inspiringly spectacular and breathtakingly beautiful. Asgard doesn’t just make for great eye candy for the film but it is also entirely believable that gods would live in a world such as the one shown here, every little detail of its design being majestic and original and the whole thing being a truly an impressive work of CGI and set design.
The place looks absolutely incredible and shots of the city with the stars surrounding it, in particular one where Heimdall is looking down on Earth, have a distinct magical quality to them. Those who inhabit the world look every bit as elegant as the realm itself with the costumes being rich and textured and simply stunning, every character being outfitted in attire that accentuates who they are as a character. There is real artistry to everything that is seen here and the impressive visuals don’t end with the scenes set in Asgard. The ice world of Jotunheim provides a major contrast to Asgard, being threatening, foreboding and frosty, so completely different to the rich elegance of Asgard in every way, but is still spectacularly realised. The Frost Giants, the beings that inhabit this world, meanwhile, are effectively menacing CG creations that make for appropriately threatening enemies.
On a similar note, The Destroyer, which features in an Earth based scene later on in the film, is also a threatening creation, an unstoppable goliath that just destroys everything in its path. Scenes set on Earth lack the lustre that those set in the other realms possess but these too still look really good thanks to some superb cinematography work. Utilising atypical camera angles, Kenneth Branagh has given the film a distinctive and slightly different visual style, one that takes even the most unremarkable of shots and gives them a unique off kilter edge. This impressive camerawork is not only evident in the Earth based scenes but also in the Asgard and Jotunheim ones, meaning that it isn’t just what has been shot that allows the film to look great but how it has been shot. The visual effects too prove to be very impressive, perhaps not the very best you will have ever seen but nonetheless truly eye-popping, with the worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim displaying them best but the Earth based sequences that feature visual effects also impressing, even scenes where Thor flies (yes, he flies).
Despite having no experience in either action or visual effects and there not being as many action sequences as you might expect, Kenneth Branagh delivers some very exciting and spectacular action sequences, among them a battle in Jotunheim that sees Thor and his fellow warriors fighting off an assault by the Frost Giants then contending with a giant beast, a rough and dirty fight between Thor and an army of S.H.I.E.L.D agents, an explosive (if a tad brief) fight between Thor and The Destroyer and the climactic final battle between Thor and Loki within the realm of Asgard itself. A lot of people may be concerned about the decision to convert the film to 3D given how poor the results of other conversions in the past year have been but fortunately this film is not a repeat of any of them and it in fact boasts what is easily the best 3D conversion to date. There is real depth to be seen in the 3D visuals with the 3D in the scenes set in Asgard and Jotunheim being particularly impressive. It really does look as though Asgard and Jotunheim are right beyond the screen even if a lot of the reason they look so good might be because they are largely CG in nature and the visual effects were actually rendered in three dimensions. Of particular note, in scenes set in Jotunheim where snow is falling all around, the snow creates an impressive depth of field and really creates a sense that the events are happening right beyond the screen.
The 3D is effect is lost somewhat on some of the Earthbound scenes but there is still plenty of depth to be seen, even if it is more evident in some shots and less so in others, the effect being a little inconsistent at times and not entirely noticeable in every live action shot. While there are shots that feature no truly noticeable 3D effects, the 3D conversion is at times excellent, something particularly evident in scenes based around the makeshift base that S.H.I.E.L.D sets up around the crater where Thor’s Hammer has landed, with the rain that falls in some of these shots creating the same impressive depth of field as the snow does in the Jotunheim scenes. While nothing every pops out of the screen as a result of the 3D, on several occasions things do seem to be coming towards it and in general this film is solid proof that a 3D conversion can yield good results.
It isn’t just the visuals that impress in this film but pretty much everything else as well. The storyline here is very effective, featuring real depth and substance and quite effectively highlighting the blurred boundary between science and magic that plays a significant role in a lot that happens. The writing, from a script written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski (who makes a cameo appearance in the film) and Mark Protosevich, is virtually flawless in fact and something that is particularly effective is the way it integrates with other films set in the Marvel universe. It works very effectively in the same universe as Iron Man but stands on its own two feet as well, being more of a standalone film than Iron Man 2, which some criticised for focusing too much on setting up The Avengers, and featuring plenty of plot aspects, references and in-jokes for Marvel fans to appreciate.
For one thing, there are direct references to both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner being mentioned and there are also several references to Donald Blake MD, the alternate identity that Thor undertakes in the comics. Then, as was also the case in Iron Man 2, S.H.I.E.L.D is a major presence in the plotline and, also like that film, another superhero makes their debut here in the form of a cameo appearance, that superhero being the arrow wielding Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner who will be featuring in The Avengers next year. As with the other films produced by Marvel Studios there is also a cameo appearance by Stan Lee and a post credits scene setting up a future movie (in fact the one from Iron Man 2 features as a scene in this film) – a Thor sequel (which, incidentally, has already been greenlit along with a Captain America one) perhaps or more likely The Avengers itself – this time featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meeting up with Dr. Selvig to discuss a device of incredible power that has been uncovered. Additionally, while, to some, Mjolnir will just be a hammer, to fans it is an object of true meaning and in many ways the film treats it as though it is a character in its own right.
In general this is a film that embraces character development as much as action, providing lots of character based scenes to go with the action and effects based ones and these are mostly well executed with dialogue that is often very good, in particular the way the Asgardians speak, them speaking in the exact fashion you might expect a god to speak – something which is, of course, aided by the delivery of the lines by the cast – and sometimes very funny as well. Something you might not expect from this film is for it to be hilariously funny but it often is. Kenneth Branagh has a bit of a knack for comedy and gets plenty of opportunities to show it off here, a scene which is kind of reminiscent of The Sword in the Stone where a load of people are trying to pull Thor’s Hammer out of the ground being a good example as well as when Sif and the Warriors Three come down to Earth to a bewildered reception from the people of the small New Mexico town with laugh out loud results.
There are plenty of other funny moments as well but none of them would work were it not for the cast who all deliver performances that really are hard to fault. Chris Hemsworth is spot on perfect in the leading role, absolutely nailing his character’s godly arrogance and sense of superiority, the way he speaks and the way he walks creating a distinct sense of a person who believes himself to be superior to everyone else. With incredible charisma, he makes for a very believable god and everything about his performance creates a clear sense of the anger and aggression that exists within him as well as the arrogance and stupidity. He also handles the physical aspects of the role perfectly, not only acting superbly but performing the stunts brilliantly in the action sequences. He also shares a good chemistry with Natalie Portman, even though there aren’t really enough scenes to highlight it. As for Portman herself, it is somewhat ironic that perhaps the best film she has been in this year seems to give here the least to actually do, but she nonetheless delivers a very good performance, being a strong romantic interest and being easy enough to buy as an intelligent scientist type. Anthony Hopkins brings real class and gravitas to his portrayal of Odin, delivering an intense performance that is full of wisdom.
As the villain of the piece, Tom Hiddleston makes for a perfect God of Mischief, being perfectly manipulative, scheming, duplicitous and sinister as a bad guy who is calm and subtle but very effective and menacing at the same time. In the film’s other villain role, Colm Feore is also suitably threatening. Jamie Alexander, meanwhile, is both elegantly beautiful and a very strong heroine while Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas and Tadanobu Asano are appropriately warrior like but also incredibly funny at times and Idris Elba delivers a very bold performance as Heimdall. As for the other key players, Stellan Skarsgård delivers a strong performance too and has some humorous scenes with Hemsworth and Clark Gregg is once again very good as Agent Coulson. The only cast members who really fail to stand out are the ones who aren’t featured as much, Kat Dennings largely just serving as light relief in a role that requires very little of her and has her do little but tazer Thor while Rene Russo hardly appears at all. All in all, Thor is a blockbuster with few discernable flaws and a lot of clear strengths. Visually and literally magnificent it is a true epic in every sense of the word and a truly mighty superhero movie. It provides absolutely everything you could ask for from a summer blockbuster and then some and is a film that you will likely leave ready to watch over again and eagerly awaiting the inevitable sequel. Marvel Studios have struck superhero gold yet again and crafted a perfect popcorn movie to kick off what looks to be a truly super summer for not only superhero movies but blockbusters in general.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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