If there was one comic book title, amongst Marvel Comics' vast repertoire, near impossible to make a creditable feature out of, chances are Thor would be near the top of the list. With combining elements of old Nordic legend with the daftness of the Marvel universe, even in the realms of graphic novels it come across as a silly concept. Yet miraculously the character has stood the test of time with readers since his début in 1962.
Starring Chris Hemsworth - last seen through my eyes as Captain Kirk's dad in 2009's excellent Star Trek reboot - in the title role, Thor tells the tale of the god of thunder's banishment to Earth by his father, Odin as he soughs to discover the true meaning of being a hero worthy of his prestigious title. All the while, his devious brother Loki has plans of his own to take the crown of Thor's home-world, Asgard.
Ever since the film was announced, Thor was always going to be a risky property to adapt for Marvel, but personally I'm surprised with the results. It manages to create some visually epic and otherworldly imagery, highlights of course being Asgard itself and the homeworld of the villainous Frost Giants. Kenneth Branagh was also smart enough to not take the story he's adapting too seriously, creating some genuinely fun light hearted moments on top of some brilliant action pieces. In a world where The Dark Knight has pushed every comic book property to its most existentially gritty, Thor was a reminder the genre can still, heaven forbid, retain an element of honest fun - while without delving into the absurdity of failed attempts of the past such as, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.
Furthermore as a comic book geek who's never picked up a single issue of Thor over the years, the film was accessible enough to new fans without going to the monotonous effort of having to focus too much on a prolonged origin story like in Spider-Man, Iron Man or Batman Begins.
Despite the iffy accent he was sporting, Chris Hemsworth was a solid presence in the role of Thor. Enabling himself to shift gracefully from the arrogant, headstrong warrior we see at the start of the film to the wiser, more humble hero by the time the credits roll. Arguably the more interesting performance came from Tom Hiddleston as the villain of the piece, Loki, looking as though he borrowed a lot from Brad Dourif's slimy performance as Grima Wormtongue in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, albeit with much more command and presence such an antagonist requires.
Anthony Hopkins looked a bit awkward sporting all that heavy duty gear for the role of Odin, but played on his wise, fatherly role to adequate effect. Natalie Portman meanwhile as Thor's headstrong love interest, Jane Foster was, well, like nearly every other modern comic book film love interest. As always there's this attempt to create strong well rounded female characters, but ultimately the majority of them always seem to get a little weepy and teary eyed upon seeing the hero with his top off. It's sad but true. That aside she was still likeable enough to carry the performance and conjured good chemistry with Hemsworth during the more tender moments of the story set on Earth.
Didn't really see the point to Kat Jennings' role as Jane's assistant Darcy Phillips other than her deadpan demeanour and continuous references to Facebook must have been seen by the screenwriters as a way to ground the film. Thankfully it was used sparingly to not hinder the film's grand virtuoso story. Welcomed back as always was the return of Clark Gregg as SHEILD operative, Agent Coulson, last seen in Iron Man 1 and 2 - providing good humour and continuous references to the rest of this Marvel universe in the build up to next year's much anticipated Avengers film.
On the subject of the Avengers also look out for the well placed cameo from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and the usual appearance of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury - who is pretty much contracted to Marvel films for the rest of his career - after the credits roll.
Considering Branagh's history for adapting classic literature and Shakespearean plays, I was impressed at his grasp of handling this amount of sheer action while telling a fun, engaging story - even if it could've been about 10 minutes shorter. The 3D element was the same as every other feature I've seen since its return at the end of 2009. It's good at making tiny things floating about the screen look pretty and come to life, but lacked any real relevance in scenes driven by dialogue and story. Least it worked for the spectacular ending credits sequence, which looked like it was lifted straight from Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe. Yes I just championed the use of 3D...in a closing credits sequence. Says it all really.
It might not offer anything new to an already prospering genre, but Kenneth Branagh should be praised for creating a visually extravagant and ultimately enjoyable story out of something which, in the wrong hands, could've easily been on par with past campy, disastrous, adaptations as Masters of the Universe and Batman and Robin. Chris Hemsworth leads the line well against his more seasoned and established co-stars in a truly likeable heroic performance. Though still falling short of the sub-genres best examples - such as The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 - Thor still does a fun job of setting the audiences up for their Avengers film next year. Roll on Captain America...
Thor will be released throughout the UK on April 28th 2011. Will hit US theatres on May 6th 2011.