In Marvel’s scramble to grant each of their superheroes a franchise before a possible united outing, the choice of Kenneth Branagh as director for “The Mighty Thor” was without doubt the best decision. To draw parallels between the mythically-inspired comic and the godly authority of the accredited Shakespearean with a pedigree that includes everything from “Henry V” to “Hamlet” was a stroke of genius that translated into the most anticipated hero-picture of the summer. Similarly a good decision was to cast a relative newcomer, golden-locked and uber-muscled Chris Hemsworth in the hammer-wielding title role alongside heavyweights like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.

After a folly mission, young and arrogant god of thunder Thor (Hemsworth) is banished from Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) and has his principle source of power, the hammer Mjolnir stripped from him. Exiled to a world called Earth, he first meets with scientist Jane (Portman) and her assistants Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings. Concurrently, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been eying the throne of Asgard for himself and has agreed a devious deal with the feared Ice-Giants that would see Odin dead, Thor permanently banished and said giants rise to their former glory. If that weren’t enough, the mysterious SHIELD agency (Introduced in “Iron Man”) is also after Thor’s hammer. As the forces of evil unite, Thor must prove himself worthy, regain Mjolnir and (of course) defeat Loki and thus save Asgard. As expected, Branagh’s influence saturates the picture, lending an epic touch to the exposition that may not quite rival the Bard himself but is a terrific – and the correct – direction in which to take a superhero film. The entire plot has hints of “King Lear,” minus the insanity. Yet Branagh rightly distinguishes between dramatic proceedings in Asgard and more casual ones on Earth, with surprisingly humorous results. Quite a large portion of the film’s middle third contains some hearty laughs that certainly come unexpected but also function as reassurance that Branagh isn’t taking it all much too seriously.

Hemsworth to does well in slipping into his godly shoes, though far more believable when able to ham up the headstrong and foolhardy side of Thor than when purporting love for his father, brother and country. His chemistry with Portman is fine though their relationship misses a crucial middle floor in her coming across a homeless hunk in the desert to believing him to be a god from another world. Portman is never bad in a role but maybe this one wan’t quite suited to her. There are further caveats to register, mainly the underdevelopment of the chief villain. Not only is it clear from frame one that Loki will play bad, his motives are so thoroughly scrambled that many a viewer will be scratching their heads. The screenplay thinks itself far too clever here, seemingly presenting a complex character but comes up short by having his behaviour be illogical. Many will also find fault with the presentation of Asgard itself, as it looks like a rather bad mutation of some of Lucas’ “Star Wars” worlds and oh so CGI. Too much so, especially in the huge crowd scenes and battle set-pieces that should by rights rock the floor like the Battle of Agincourt. Finally, a series of off-angle establishing shots stick out like sore thumbs. If these were intended to be a stylistic device is unclear but in any case no stylistic device should jump out and say look at me!

Patrick Doyle has always been Branagh’s composer of choice and like him, this was Doyle’s first dabble in the genre. Having also previously graced the fourth “Harry Potter” with music of epic proportions, the Brit certainly has the know-how for an appropriately large effort this time round as well. What surprised many listeners and deterred some was Doyle’s choice (or perhaps at the insistence of the studio) to venture into the grounds more usually tread by Hans Zimmer and his associates: That definitive “blockbuster” sound with power-anthems, orchestra plus synth elements and an abundance of driving percussion. Though it’s a departure for Doyle, the style fits the film well and is, unlike some of the efforts of Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Jawadi and indeed Zimmer himself, a score of intelligent construct. The main theme is powerful, the string ostinatos vary as appropriate and there’s almost excessive material for the percussion section to gnaw on. It would certainly have been interesting to hear Doyle apply his more conventional music but that may well have been far too romantic for the film. This score may very well mark the beginning of a comeback for Patrick Doyle who had slipped off the Hollywood radar somewhat in recent years. Definitely recommended.

Overall “Thor” makes for good entertainment. The continuation of style Branagh nurtured on the  Elizabethan stage is the film’s strongest playing card though several poor choices, some not directly related to the director prevent it from being an ace up his sleeve. That said, it’s a great kick-off for a summer with a full-up superhero offering. Should a sequel come to pass, definitely bring Kenneth Branagh back to the table.



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