Summer is upon us! The time of year that we decide to whip out the sunglasses and shorts and revel in a month or two of freedom is the same time that those ‘ol Hollywood execs churn out a series of blockbusters to keep us enlivened and entertained until September comes around. Thor is the first out of four superhero films to be released this summer, as well as the latest offering from Marvel Studios to heighten anticipation for their ‘supergroup’ movie The Avengers in 2012. Given that the last Marvel feature, Iron Man 2, was met with reviews that pointed out it as no more than a trailer for The Avengers and that the recent deluge of superheroes on our screens is bound to get tedious for some, the idea of a film about a hammer-wielding Norse God was understandably approached with scepticism and scorn by some critics.

Though it may be riding on the coattails of Spiderman, X-Men, etc, Thor is a resounding success. Director Kenneth Branagh (a controversial choice seeing as he is used to making four-hour Shakespeare pictures) crafts a film that has plenty of excitement and action as well as humour and heart. The first act of the film takes place on Asgard, a gorgeously designed world ruled by Anthony Hopkins’ Odin. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are the sons of Odin who both vie to take his place. Thor is the boorish, impulsive one and Loki the quiet and well-mannered one (with secret plans to rule Asgard no matter what it takes).
A key problem with the concept of the titular character is that (like Superman), he can do pretty much anything, how could any villain possibly stop him and why should an audience care for the character’s plight? Branagh continues his story and escapes this problem by having Odin cast Thor down to earth, where he cannot use his powers until “he be worthy”. On Earth, Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and forms a connection with her and her team of scientists. One other dilemma that any director tackling Thor will have to handle is overcoming the idea that people will laugh at Thor – he is huge, dumb and blonde, has a spiky helmet and carries a massive hammer. Luckily, Branagh and his writers embrace the humorous element of Thor’s personality once he is on Earth and the film becomes a ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy; lines like “this mortal form grows weak, I require sustenance!” are sure to be repeated again and again by fans.

The casting is the main strength of the film, Hemsworth gave an impressive single-scene performance in Star Trek and he takes on the challenge of his first leading role as if it were a long time personal passion project. Hemsworth as Thor really is one of those ‘born to play’ roles and he adds such layers to the character that you find it hard to believe how anyone else would have even been considered. Hiddleston’s performance as the villainous Loki is also quite powerful. Loki is a nasty little bugger but Hiddleston portrays him in a sympathetic manner that is suitable for the drama of the story. The monolithic presence of actors like Hopkins, Idris Elba and Ray Stevenson is also welcome.

Thor does contain the same flaws that seem to pervade the superhero subgenre; the tacked-on romantic subplot, the pointless supporting characters (Kat Dennings’ Darcy) and a tiresome structure (once hero encounters problem he fails to solve it, then succeeds on his second try, the end). Overall though, it’s a great introduction into what will hopefully be a great series of summer blockbusters.

Star Rating: * * * *

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