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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thor

I have somehow only seen three of the six or so films slated for release this week (don't know what happened there) but all three are worthwhile - making this, if nothing else, a huge improvement over last week. Up first: the biggie, the first superhero blockbuster of the year and one of the most pleasant surprises so far this year... Thor!

Also, this is my original unedited review. It goes on a bit so it was understandably edited down for Channel24 but there are a few things in my original review that I think are worth mentioning. Specifically Kenneth Branagh's job as a director.

From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 28 April 2011) 

What it's about

Based on the Marvel Comics character, Thor, the future king of the legendary realm of Asgard and its most powerful warrior, finds himself stripped of his “God of Thunder” powers and exiled to earth after his arrogance leads his realm into a new war with some very old and very powerful enemies.

What we thought

Thor marks the beginning of what is to be an onslaught on big superhero movies to take us through to the end of 2012 and beyond. Green Lantern, Captain America, reboots of Superman, X-Men and Spider-man and, most excitingly, Joss Whedon's Avengers and the final part of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy are all sure to be big box office draws over the next couple of years.

For me though, Thor always seemed like the odd man out. Despite being a fairly popular Marvel character and (the comic book version) a creation of legendary comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I have simply never had much more than a passing interest in the character. The good news then is that, though it's far from a perfect film, Thor actually made me like the title character more than I ever thought possible while setting a pretty high bar of quality for those other superhero films to match.

Certain early reviews, particularly those posted at some of the comics sites I frequent, have given the impression that Thor is a film that is pretty much free of flaws. It isn't. The film splits its time between being a fish-out-of-water tale set on Earth and an epic fantasy set on the majestic vistas of Asgard and though I have few complaints about the former, the latter aspects of the film are occasionally too overwrought for their own good.

Having Kenneth Branagh direct the film may have seemed like a very strange choice at the outset (hell, even Natalie Portman has admitted that the main reason she signed up was "I was just like Kenneth Branagh doing 'Thor' is super-weird, I've gotta do it.") after seeing the film, it's hard to imagine anyone else doing it. As a director he is famous/ infamous for bombast and theatricality, which is why he has always been such a great fit for bringing Shakespeare to the silver screen.

That he was a good fit for the Asgard portions of the film is hardly surprising but, oddly enough, where he really shines are on the more down to earth bits. Asgard itself is an incredible CGI creation being a fantastic mix of psychedelic science and traditional fantasy elements and the parts of the story that are set there have the very fitting feel of a classic Greek tragedy. At the same time though, the CGI does at times feel a bit overdone at times and the epic fantasy elements do occasionally tip into frankly silly cheesiness.

The earth-bound parts, on the other hand, may seem far more ordinary but are actually much more satisfying. Looser, funnier and more enjoyable than anything set on Asgard, the bits set on earth are also far more relateable as we see the title character seeking redemption and genuinely becoming wiser and more human in the process, while the build up to Whedon's Avengers continues (far more organically than Iron Man 2, by the way) as S.H.I.E.L.D are an omnipresent part of the action.

The supporting cast in general is very impressive but however much I enjoyed the work done by Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba during the Asgard-set portions, it is the supporting cast on earth that most impresses. Natalie Portman is typically fantastic as Jane Foster, the plucky, (obviously) beautiful scientist who is to be Thor's love interest and Stellan Skarsgard brings all his usual dramatic Nordic weight to his role. Best of all though is Kat Dennings who I really wanted more of as Portman and Skarsgard's characters' dryly hilarious research assistant. 

The true star of the film though is, fittingly, Chris Hemsworth as Thor himself. Not only is the character very well written, Hemsworth simply kills it in the role. In his hands, Thor is a haughty, arrogant and confident creation but one that is immensely likeable, sympathetic and honourable at the same time. Plus he handles the comedy aspects of the film brilliantly – including some very nicely played slapstick.

Thor is a very good superhero blockbuster that promises even better sequels but keep a special eye out for Hemsworth: the dude is going to be (deservedly) HUGE.

PS: I forgot to mention in the original review that I saw Thor in 3D and, as usual, you need not bother. No doubt the 2D will be brighter and cheaper than the pointless 3D print.

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