The Red Right Hand
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THOR
Courage Is Immortal

Director
Kenneth Branagh

Starring
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Tom Hiddleston
Anthony Hopkins

As a fan of Norse mythology and a Marvel comics addict, you'd think I would know Thor inside and out. You'd be wrong. I've only recently read Straczynski's stuff and really enjoyed it but had absolutely no idea how they were going to successfully translate this character to a cinematic audience. That was, up until Kapow! Comic Con, where I was lucky enough to get into the Thor panel and clip screening. Somehow, Branagh has perfectly cast this film and presented it in such a way that refuses to shy away from its origin, revelling in the lush visuals of Asgard while neatly anchoring the story on Earth.

Following the very brief introduction to the arrival of Thor on Earth, we are treated to a lengthy flashback that details the truth behind the mythology. The universe as we know it is divided into nine distinct realms, the most powerful being Asgard, ruled by Odin [Hopkins] and Jotunheim, ruled by the frost giant Laufey [Colm Ferore]. Armed with their greatest weapon (The Casket Of Ancient Winters) the frost giants set out to conquer the nine realms, starting with Midgard (Earth). After a long and bloody war, Odin called a truce, confiscated the casket and retained it deep within his castle's treasury vault, guarded by the destroyer - a formidable metallic golem. Decades later, on the coronation day of Odin's son, Thor [Hemsworth], a small band of frost giants break into the vault but are quickly dispatched. Hot-blooded and foul-tempered, Thor is intent on visiting Jotunheim and punishing the frost giants. Against Odin's wishes and goaded by his brother, Loki [Hiddleston], Thor recruits Sif and the Warriors Three to accompany him. Naturally they are horrendously outnumbered and all bar Thor opt for retreat. Surrounded, Odin appears and petitions Laufey to dismiss his son's actions as that of an arrogant child. Laufey explains Thor will have his way and there will be war between the two worlds. Furious, Odin returns to Asgard and officially strips Thor of his title, privileges and power before exiling him to a mortal life on Earth. Upon arrival he is discovered by a small astrophysics group in New Mexico, headed by Jane Foster [Portman]. Whilst Thor attempts to adjust to a mortal life, Loki learns of his past and turns to his father for answers. Wishing to end Thor's banishment, Sif and the warriors three request an audience with Odin, only to discover that Loki has ascended to the throne.

Thor's a hard sell, even to comic fans; magic, aliens, mythology, it can be a bit much but when broken down, the story seems ideal for Branagh: sibling rivalry, monarchical power struggles, subtle love story, comedy, eloquent monologues delivered in British accents - it's basically Shakespeare and more than familiar turf for Branagh. And this project really does excel, proving that even the most formulaic elements can be delivered in a fresh way. For example, there's an undeniably two dimensional nature to the characters (the brash hero, the silver-tongued younger brother, the plucky love interest) that's sold so very well by decent storytelling and credible charismatic acting. Additionally, the frequent, not to mention skilful, use of humour, drama and action will be all too familiar to Marvel readers but seeing it in the cinematic universe gives a nice unifying feel. Speaking of the marvel universe, it's nice to see nods to Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and next year's Avengers film - simultaneously connected to something bigger while remaining its own unique release just staples the Marvel feel perfectly. Visually, the entire movie is a treat; ranging from the sets and costumes to the vibrant visual effects - in particular the sweeping pans of Asgard - everything is gilded, gleaming and layered with a stunning amount of intricate Nordic detail. I must confess, as booming as the soundtrack was, I didn't really notice it much. It clearly fit in neatly with the on-screen developments without imposing itself but seemed to lack a memorable presence.

My only real main faults seemed to lie with the presentation of the release. In IMAX Thor is stunning, simply spectacular - but the 3D element was so unnecessary. I understand the gimmick and it was reasonably well handled here but, not dissimilar to Tron: Legacy, it wasn't needed and slightly hindered the full impact of the crisp finished visuals. Furthermore, a point I actually enjoyed, some are going to be put off and distracted by Branagh's use of Dutch angles - which basically means wonky. I think it was very tastefully done and heightened the emotion but undoubtedly, some are going to hate it.

For decades we've been subjected to what various producers have assumed the public wants, battling with directors over creative elements to simply boost the sale of a film (prime example would be Daredevil; it's far from perfect but if you watch the director's cut and 'making of' feature, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about). But it's nice to finally see comic book adaptations released without studio interference and key decision making done by exceptional filmmakers. Subsequently, Thor deserves thunderous applause for contributing so beautifully to this wholly welcome growing trend.

Release Date:
UK - 29th April 2011
US - 6th May 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers.. for those who are unfamiliar with Thor - either the comic or mythology**
As stated, the narrative flitters back-and-forth between drama, comedy and action with complete ease. Subsequently, there should be three highlighted scenes - but that would be a tad indulgent. I think the scene that stands out the most is Loki's confrontation with Odin. Up until this point, Hiddleston had been commendably supporting everyone around him but when given a chance to really thrash he produces an amazing performance. In a way he reminds me a lot of the equally talented Michael Fassbender and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a great deal of scripts thrown his way.

Notable Characters:
Commanding every scene, Hemsworth and Hiddleston have both stepped into the limelight with an amazingly powerful stride; each bringing something unique and impeccably impressive. In typical Shakespearean style, the majority of the supporting characters don't tend to deviate from their specific archetype. In other words, Stellan Skarsgard plays the sceptic, Kat Dennings plays the comic relief and Clark Gregg plays the working stiff, just trying to get on with his job. So, it's a little tricky judging their performance when they're given so little leeway. Having said that, there were a great many spectacular performances and my only real snub would be Jaimie Alexander as Sif, don't ask me why, I just didn't feel she nailed the part. Sorry.

Highlighted Quote:
THOR: I require a horse
PET SHOP CLERK: We're a pet store, we only have dogs and cats
THOR: Do you have any big enough to ride?

In A Few Words:
"A welcome addition to the expanding Marvel cinematic universe and a great accomplishment unto itself"

Total Score:
7/10


Matthew Stogdon