Director: Kenneth Branagh
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Compared to some superhero properties, the Norse god romp is not all that well known outside comic book circles, then there’s an unknown in the title role in the shape of Aussie beefcake Chris Hemsworth.
But most intriguingly, in Kenneth Branagh, it has a director who made his bones bringing Shakespeare to the screen, and who hasn’t been near a major special effects spectacle in his behind-the-camera life.
But recognition matters little when the story is so strong, Hemsworth is really very good indeed, and Branagh brings the whole thing together like he’s been spitting out action extravaganzas his whole career.
Mercifully this isn’t really an origin story, although we do get a lengthy, sometimes chaotic prologue set in 10th century Norway, in which Anthony Hopkins, as Norse god Odin, king of Asgard, tells us about a war with the Frost Giants (stay with it).
Just as Odin's son Thor is to become king ahead of his brother Loki, the Frost Giants make a return and Thor wants to fight back, against his father’s wishes, and as punishment is cast out of Asgard and down to earth as a mortal.
Meanwhile in modern day New Mexico, Natalie Portman and her team of scientists are doing something or other scientific in the middle of the desert when Thor falls from the sky with no idea where he is.
He enlists Portman’s help to find his magic hammer, Mjolnir, a device of unimaginable power which was last spotted if you hung about after the end credits of Iron Man 2 being found by Agent Coulson of the mysterious organisation S.H.I.E.L.D.
Such details may seem insignificant, but it’s all part of the broadening of the Marvel comics universe that started with Samuel L. Jackson’s appearances in the Iron Man films, Robert Downey Jr in The Incredible Hulk and building up to The Avengers next summer, which will feature all the major players from the Marvel stable.
It’s every bit as cuckoo as it sounds, but good grief, is it ever fun, and mostly very well paced save for a slight lag in the middle when the pieces get put into place for the all action finale. Thor may not get to a great deal of superhero-ing during this phase but, by great Odin’s raven, when it comes, the hammer time is stunning as he fights back against betrayal in Asgard and a massive destructive robot on earth.
Everything about Thor works on a technical level, from the luscious design of Asgard, to the sparkling visual effects and Patrick Doyle's immersive score. Hemsworth is hugely engaging, not just in using his astonishing physicality to great effect in the bruising action scenes, but in his line readings and pratfalls that help to make the movie surprisingly funny thanks to Thor’s fish out of water antics.
It’s almost enough to make you think this might be a very good summer at the movies after all.