Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, 114 minutes, Rated PG-13.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Marvel has a lot riding on its big screen version of “Thor.” Not only does this extravagant, Kenneth Branagh-directed superhero flick set up its own would-be franchise, but also another overarching one, “The Avengers.” As such, Marvel has a right to be nervous— their first forays into setting up hero-heavy pictures have not been successful. With Hulk needing another reboot, and Iron Man 2 crumbling under the weight of Avenger advertisements, there was little reason to think a Shakespearian director like Branagh could get bring the nearly-DOA project back from the dead.
Surprisingly, all that time dealing in four-hour-long adaptations of “Hamlet” made Branagh perfectly equipped to balance the many sides of “Thor.” Charging through the duties of origins, romance and franchise, Branagh and his immensely likable cast connect the realms of Earth, Asgard and Hollywood with ease. The director’s heavy-handed dramatics and swooping camera match the Saturday Matinee theatrics of the Norse God of Thunder, as Branagh and his star, Chris Hemsworth, command the screen with charisma and excitement.
After foolishly attacking a rival realm against his father’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes, the hotheaded son of Odin, Thor (Hemsworth), finds himself living in exile as a mortal man on Earth. There, he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist looking to explain Thor’s sudden appearance. Back on the unprotected Asgard, Thor’s vengeful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) begins a reign of terror to usurp his father’s crown.
Appropriately, “Thor” allots equal time to both realms, and even without the added excitement of Asgard’s colorful effects and extravagant battles with the Frost Giants, Branagh claims Earth for Thor. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman charm the pants off each other and the audience—at least enough to make the time between explosions worth paying attention to. Thor swings his mighty hammer frequently, but the quirky romance is equally worth watching.
Just as much credit should go to Branagh for also making the bureaucratic mission of S.H.I.E.L.D essential to the plot and making that piece of the film appear larger than life. The director doesn’t waste a shot in making his film feel like the grandest superhero movie ever. From the Golden Halls of Asgard to the exterior of a hospital, Branagh’s frame tilts and swoops its way into excitement. With a director this interested in making every shot exciting, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that his film is just that.