It’s hammer time! Kenneth Branagh's Thor has a theatrical charm
Kenneth Branagh may have seemed like an unlikely choice to direct Marvel's Thor but he pulls it off with considerable style to kick-start the summer in fun fashion. By no means perfect, and inferior to both Christopher Nolan's genre re-defining Batman movies and Jon Favreau's original Iron Man, Thor is nevertheless a hugely entertaining film that expertly combines an epic sense of dynastic turmoil with a knowing sense of humour.
It embraces big themes – of Gods and men, war and sibling rivalry – with a reach that extends further into the Marvel universe, referencing the likes of Tony Stark and the forthcoming Avengers movie in a way that feels smart rather than franchise baiting.
And it's no mean accomplishment given that Thor is arguably one of the more difficult superhero franchises to pull because of the way it straddles two worlds and encompasses supreme beings rather than the more commonly associated everyman hero/villain who suddenly gains special powers/responsibilities.
The story follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he develops from the powerful but arrogant warrior son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the fantastical realm of Asgard, into a more humble and thoughtful leader.
It is a transition that begins when he is banished to Earth for disobeying his father, paving the way for his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) to put into play his own plan for universal domination. And it comes with the obligatory romance with Natalie Portman’s scientist, Jane Foster.
As with most superhero movies, there are certain boxes that require ticking – from the origins format of a first movie to the final scene smack-down involving two super-powers and the post-credits teaser - but Branagh competently juggles the spectacle with more personal touches.
Hence, scenes between Thor, Loki and Odin are allowed to unfold with a touch of the Shakespearean grandeur about them but are neatly offset by knowing nods to some of the film’s absurdities.
The only real criticisms stem from some of the more formulaic elements as well as the sometimes unconvincing mix of worlds, given that the film is much less interesting when existing in the CGI enhanced realm of Asgard than it is among the flesh and blood characters of Earth.
But as a first big screen taste of Thor and a precursor to The Avengers it does nicely.
General release from Wed 27 Apr.