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Thor

a film by Kenneth Branagh

Verily I doth praise thouest motion picture of the Mighty Thor, God of Thunder and bravest and most noble of all Midgard's Mightiest Avengers. Tis not the folly which most typically bewitches thou righteous and quite gallant genre. Thou knowest this to be true. Now there are several things wrong with the preceding three sentences (other than the sad fact that so low a percentage of the current populace speak in Middle English, especially comic-hewn Middle English). The first being that, as anyone who has read Marvel Comics knows (or knowest to be true if you will), Thor is, at the very least, equaled in both bravery and nobility by fellow Avenger Captain America - but that is a debate for another time and another movie (conveniently coming to a multiplex near you in just two short months).

The main problem with my opening is the fact that though Thor (the 22nd movie adapted from Marvel Comics) is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, full of moments of fanboy-intended giddy delights, tis not the Godly Asgardian wonder I had hoped (and possibly prayed to the Norse Gods) for. Still though, even though my (mostly) unrealistic aspirations were verily dashed, Thor, with its realm-hopping heroics and noble storybook questing (as well as a touch of comedy that harkens back to the comics), is a more than pleasurable entry in the (more and more every day) ubiquitous superhero genre, as well as a fun and nostalgic trip back to my boyhood days of reading the God of Thunder's exploits in the pages of the aforementioned Marvel Comics (not to mention my occasional adulthood forays back into the fantastical universe wherein I grew up).

Really though, besides being made as (somewhat) merely a precursor for the upcoming The Avengers movie (the eventual centerpiece bringing all of the Marvel Studios Universe together in one great big makeshift Cosmic Cube), the Kenneth Branagh directed Thor (and it really should have been called The Mighty Thor, but that is just a one-time fanboy's piffling argument) is a fine piece of action cinema. Even though Branagh's directing style is basically a non-style (the fact that the director had to compensate for transfer into 3D and therefore could not do too many tricks with his camera, only adds to Branagh's lack of auteurial signature) and his expected Shakespearean bent leaves a bit (but just a bit) to be desired (Darker Kenneth! Go darker!) the movie barrels along with a certain vim and vigor (and a mightily mythical bravado) that suits the history of the character to a veritable tee.

Some of this may be due to Branagh's skillful yet somewhat forcibly narrowed direction (the Irishman claims a childhood love of the character of Thor) and some may come out of Marvel Comic's brilliant J. Michael Straczynski's story idea (the screenplay was then written by Don Payne, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, the latter two having also written the script for the upcoming X-Men: First Class) but as they say, if you do not cast your movie properly, then nothing in the world is going to save it. I do not know if they actually say that or not (personally I have never heard anyone say that, and it probably isn't even true anyway) but that was my way of segueing into the following statement. As far as I am concerned, Thor is cast just about right no matter where you happen to look. There. I said it.

Chris Hemsworth (seen briefly as pere Kirk in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot) makes for a good God of Thunder. His acting ability is perhaps rather limited (though I have not seen enough to rightfully judge such a thing) but his look fits the character and really, what more can we ask for. However, it is the addition of newbie Academy Award winner Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, astrophysicist and mortal love interest to Thor, and token Scandinavian Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Selvig (placed here possibly to give the inherent knowledge of Norse religion a respectable emoter), as well as Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin the Allfather, daddy of all daddies, that gives the film a bit of thespianic respectability. This way Hemsworth can do the posing and not have to have the added responsibility of acting - though he does indeed do a fine job with the character so perhaps my passive-aggressive jabs are a bit unwarranted. But hey, he's a God, he can take it.

The other fun performance in the movie is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, mythical mischief-maker and jealous brother to Thor (and one of my all-time favourite Marvel villains). Fellow critical compatriot Glenn Kenny hilariously describes the Godly brothers as "pro wrestler Chris Jericho and goth-rock combo Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy." It is the morose character of Loki who, if Joss Whedon's The Avengers follows its comic history, will be integral in the formation of the superhero supergroup. Loki, along with fellow Asgardians, the Lady Sif (a smokin' Jaimie Alexander), the Warriors Three (Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano and Ray Stevenson as Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg respectively) and the stoic gatekeeper Heimdall (played by African-Anglo actor Idris Elba in a move that was probably strategically made more by the PC lawyers than any sort of artistic consideration - though he does a perfectly fine job and probably too much has been made of his casting choice to really add to it here) collectively help to bring this world of Gods and men to life.

But enough of all these sundry items so requisite in some reviews and/or critiques. What it all comes down to is this: is the damned movie any good!? I suppose my answer would be yes. Perhaps it doesn't have the grand operatic style of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies (though always being a Marvel over DC kind of guy, I cannot help my great respect for these films, brought forth more by the auteur's bravura filmmaking style than by a sudden love for the heroes of DC) nor the cool pleasure of the first Iron Man (the second one leaves a bit to be desired) but Branagh's (Mighty) Thor is more than equal to the heights of other Marvel movies like the first two entries in both The X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Yet in the end (and I don't mean the obligatory post-credit Nick Fury/Sam Jackson tag) what Thor does more than anything else, especially to this comic-raised critic, is make me wish The Avengers (Best. Comic. Ever.) were coming up immediately after.

Perhaps, as others have noted (and I myself just more than alluded to), Thor, like Iron Man 2 before it and Captain America after, is nothing more than one long trailer for the upcoming Avengers conglomeration (complete with an all-too-brief cameo by Jeremy Renner as everyone's favourite archer), and in a way that is indeed an annoying trait in the genre these days, but with its epic, grandiose storytelling (and yes, Shakespearean in many ways - thank you Mr. Branagh), sleek special effects and otherwordly design (damn the naysayers that claim Asgard looks weak!) and slew of intriguing characters (methinks the Mighty Thor has always intrigued this grown-up child) and the actors playing them (could have used a bit more of Hopkins as Odin though - he seemed to have very little to do) Thor is indeed well worthy of thouest title of God of Thunder emblazoned across its poster. And to hurry them along as much as they seem to be hurrying themselves, let me finish with this plea: bring on Steve Rogers and that iconic shield. Verily, I command thee! [05/07/11]

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