Despite having never read any comics ever, I’ve gone a bit Avengers mad lately. I’m blogging about all the precursory Marvel films in preparation for the big Avengers megafilm. Join me!*
*(Please don’t physically join me)
So we come to Thor, a retelling of the
Greek Norse myth which vies with Iron Man for perhaps the most satisfying entry in the Marvel cinematic universe – an achievement all the more impressive when you consider just how silly it all is. Translating any comic book hero to the big screen will always be fraught with problems – the difference in tonal styles between the two mediums are vast – but a God with a magic hammer who talks like a Tolkien elf interacting with normal people? How the hell do you pull that one off?
The first thing you do, apparently, is get Kenneth Branagh on the blower. At first, hiring the guy who directed Much Ado About Nothing to helm a superhero summer blockbuster is baffling. But as you watch it becomes clear Marvel has made a canny decision: here is a filmmaker all too familiar with the flowery Shakespearean language favoured by Thor (a gigantic Chris Hemsworth) and the Asgardians, a director who can handle the the Lear-esque arc journeyed by the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as well as the immense action that goes along with it (Ken is no stranger to the battlefield). Here, as well, is a director conscious that the clash of cultures between Gods and men is ripe for an occasional dip into comedy.
The Iron Man model dictates that superhero movies should be a careful balance of humour, heart and high-octane-action (the three Hs, if you will). And it is properly funny when Thor, a fish-out-of-water transported to 21st-century America, tries to adjust to the mundanities of modern life. Having the God of Thunder smash a coffee cup on the floor of a diner and bellow hungrily “ANOTHER!” will never not be funny. And with his hammer in hand, Thor kicks a perfectly sufficient amount of arse.
Not every hit lands. Asgard is an overblown CGI mess. The bridge guarded by Idris Elba, for example, appears lifted from the Rainbow Road level of Mario Kart. It’s possibly owing to the director’s inexperience with technology in film, who naively has his camera swoop at every vertigo-inducing opportunity, just as the first directors to handle early CGI did (before it became obvious that CGI should mimic basic dolly-crane camera movements). The icy, Doctor Who-ian baddies fall a little flat, as does Natalie Portman’s slightly clichéd independent-woman-genius-scientist-love-interest.
Quibbles aside, though, it’s generally an effective and slickly executed adventure. It’s silly without being smotheringly ridiculous, funny without being hammy, heartfelt without being slushy. It packs a punch and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. What more do you want? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to talk like an Asgardian. “YOU DARE THREATEN THE SON OF ODIN WITH SUCH A PUNY WEAPON, ETC!”