Sunday, 8 May 2011


Thor blimey! Norse Code!

Thor US 2011
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Playing at cinemas now.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews before but it’s relevant to this particular movie so I’ll summarise it again...

Marvel comics were a little harder to read than DC comics when I was a kid. I cut my teeth and taught myself how to read with comics like Superman before quickly honing my reading skills on titles such as Batman, Worlds Finest, Shazam and Casper The Friendly Ghost. Although I absolutely loved Spider-Man too, I found most of the Marvel comics of the time a little harder to get into at the age of two or three because the narratives were just not as straightforward or as linear as their DC counterparts. That’s not a criticism, by the way, and I’m sure there are many (myself included nowadays) who would much rather embrace the narrative complexity of a Marvel comic... which would start off a little way into the story and have some scene of conflict (and for conflict I mean the title character and some super-villain punching the crap out of each other and destroying half of their surrounding neighbourhood in the process) and then flash back to the start of the story to tell you how our friendly neighbourhood “whatever”-slinger came to be in this predicament of a punch-fest in the first place!

Hey, what can I say? I was young and low on concentration span and never in the Marvel brand of comics got as far as about page four to realise that the start of the story was coming. I always just assumed it was the second or third part of a story continuing from a previous issue I’d never seen.

Still, I persevered and was soon reading the Marvels almost as much as my DC, Charlton, Gold Key and Harvey comics like a trooper (before 2000AD came out and blew them all away) but one of the Marvel characters I just couldn’t get into was The Mighty Thor. I had one of those big Treasury large format editions they used to do of that particular title featuring the traditional Jack Kirby artwork but Thor was never really my thing. He always seemed a bit arrogant and he was a Norse God and he “talked funny” even though he lived in a mythical, magical world of Gods and monsters. He would also quite happily “hob nob” with other Marvel characters in supergroups such as The Avengers and I always found this strange because it didn’t sit comfortably with me that such a character would inhabit the same universe as a group of adventurers whose powers and weapons were based on cold, hard, rational science (and in some cases, such as The Hulk, in gi-normous accidents caused by the “stretching” of science to fit in with a fictional destination point). Surely they’d just use their science to prove this guy can’t exist and send him back to the fictional well of ideas from whence he sprang?

But for everyone else on our planet it seems, I have to say, that Thor worked fine in the comics and the mythological background of the character didn’t seem to be terribly off-putting for most people. This helmeted, hammer spinning, gotterdammerung personified has been genuinely accepted and loved by generations of readers since his first appearance in the Marvel Comic Journey Into Mystery at the tail end of 1962. His close working relationship with his collegues in The Avengers started in the first appearance of that superteam a year later, which has a nice symmetry when you realise that the movie incarnation of Thor makes his second big screen appearance in next years movie version of The Avengers.

Marvel’s movie of Thor is yet another of the recent spate of Mighty Marvel Movies that have been developed and produced by Marvel themselves (like the recent Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk) which really hit the mark and delivers the goods when it comes to making entertaining films from their characters (unlike some of the films based on their characters produced by other studios such as the hit and miss Spiderman and X-Men franchises). I really shouldn’t be surprised at their track record with these things either, I guess. After all, it’s Marvel adapting big screen versions of characters and situations that they’ve been working well with for almost fifty years now. They understand the basic dynamics of their characters but, what’s more important and is becoming increasingly apparent in their current product, is that they know just where they can push the differences and boundaries of the make-up of their superheroes without straying too far from the spirit in which they were created. And this is important when handling characters who are, by their very definition, far more exaggerated and elaborate than most normal characters would be... they have to be handled “just right” or they lose credibility with the audience. It’s a very fine line and Marvel do seem to have been proving quite deft at working on a larger canvass just recently.

Marvel’s latest smart move with Thor is to select a director who will be confident with the background and idiosyncracies of the speech of such a high-born, nobleman as everyone’s favourite Norse God personified and they’ve landed Kenneth Branagh to helm the movie version, a classic Shakespearian performer and director who should be fairly confident at pitching Thor's particular mythical make-up against a modern setting and running with it and not looking back.

And he doesn’t dissapoint. The magic of “the Gods” and the science as personified by S.H.I.E.L.D fit quite snuggly with each other, slipped past the audience with dialogue that at once highlights their differences and validates these differences by calling attention to their similarities. But, thankfully, Branagh doesn’t let this get in the way of telling an entertaining yarn at a cracking pace and Thor (brilliantly played by Chris Hemsworth who was also good as his brief turn as Captain Kirks ill-fated father in the recent Star Trek movie) and his buddies seem to derive more from Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood in their attitude than any Shakesperian influences... although I have to say that this is probably because I’m almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of the English Bard myself rather than there not actually being any parallels. There’s even a familiar “routine” from Arthurian legend in it in which the God of Marvel Comics himself, Stan Lee, makes a memorable cameo appearance.

Another thing which Branagh does, which hardly any of the Marvel movies have been doing recently, is to take that basic hurl-you-into-the-excitement-first-and-then-flashback-to-the-set-up style of telling stories in “the MIghty Marvel Manner” which I talked about earlier. This movie does start off quite a ways into the plot with Thor’s “arrival” on earth and the introduction of Natalie Portman as the poster girl for science and reason and, of course, our heroes new love interest. It then, however, flashes back to set up the world of Gods from which Thor harkens and we see the beginnings of the insidious, twisted plot of his step-brother Loki and the stripping of Thor’s powers by Odin, played with much fire and brimstone by Anthony Hopkins. Once the storyline has caught up with the opening sequence again, the thing crackles along at a fair old pace and makes good on the post-end credits sequence from Iron Man 2 with Agent Coulson once again representing S.H.I.E.L.D as Thor tries to reclaim his hammer and his power and a mechanical destroyer that seems to be based on Gort from the original film The Day The Earth Stood Still (and probably was, if it derives from the comics) is sent to despatch Thor and his chums who have illegally travelled to earth to rescue him.

So some cracking special effects (which even look half-good in 3D on the cinema release), good plotting and scripting, and some great acting by the likes of the leads bolstered by the always fine acting talents of Stellan Skarsgård (who is a much more respected actor now that everyone’s forgotten his stints in movies such as Anita: The Shocking Account Of A Young Nymphomaniac opposite soft-porn queen Christina Lindberg) and the charismatic presence of a young actress called Kat Dennings. There’s even an un-named cameo appearance by another member of The Avengers, Hawkeye (out of costume)... so I’m assuming he’ll be in the new movie next year?

And, of course, stay around after the final credits have played out to see Stellan Skarsgård and yet another post-credits cameo by Samuel Jackson (as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D) to lead us in to The Avengers movie. Also, it’s worth staying around for this sequence to see the return of one of the other characters from this movie... I’m not saying which one as naming him will kind of give the game away a little if you’ve not seen Thor yet.

All this and a great score by regular Brannagh composer Partrick Doyle which, if not as Korngoldian as I would have liked considering the attitude of many of the characters in this movie, is certainly not fumbling any balls and gives a good, supporting sound to the proceedings.

All in all then, a good night out at the movies. By Odins beard, see it before it vanishes.

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