Clint checks out the fantastic Thor!


Alright stop… Hammer Time.

Note : I’m going to speak quite a bit about Kenneth Branagh in this review because, quite frankly, it’s his anointment as director that makes ‘’Thor’’ somewhat of a different superhero movie – albeit not too different a superhero movie.

Shocker! Bored of the bard and seemingly keen to shake off the ‘speare, Bill’s favourite go-to man, Kenneth Branagh adds salt and sweat to his mitts with the manly comic book flick ‘’Thor’’. I mean, shit!, a feature film adaptation of a long-running comic book is, I think it’s fair to say, quite a departure for Branagh, director of wordsy-efforts like ‘’Hamlet’’ and ‘’Othello’’, right?

Could it be that Emma Thompson’s former lip-balm is a fan of comics!? Could it be that he’s a  – dare I say – fanboy!? Could it be that… heck, I’m not kidding anyone am I? The only factor spurring Branagh’s decision to swap a ‘speare for hammer were numbers; It’s near always much ado about money for anyone of note helming a comic book movie (Those ‘’Peters Friends’’ residuals were going to dry up sometime) – the ol ‘this’ll help me get off the bench’ project.

Disparagement aside, like Jon Favreau with ‘’Iron Man’’ (and to a slightly lesser extent, ‘’Iron Man 2’’), Louis Letterier on ‘’Incredible Hulk’’ and Joe Johnston on the upcoming “Captain America’’ Branagh’s not just any mortgage-paying gun-for-hire – he’s a well-oiled L86 Light Support Weapon with a packed magazine; whoever was hired was going to have the same target to aim for, but the better the arsenal the more fucking spectacular the impact. And anyone that’s seen even just a couple of Branagh’s film, television or theater credits will know he comes locked and loaded.

And if it’s a superhero movie Branagh’s going to do, let it be ‘’Thor’’ – a movie based on one of the few Marvel heroes you’ll find in a book on Norse polytheism (not to mention a calendar – Thor is the namesake of weekday Thursday).  Oxford would approve, sir.

Thor, the god of thunder, is the stuff of legend – well, comics and legend – and there’s a rich, sophisticated mythology behind he and the Proto-Indo-European religion he belongs to. Branagh doing a ‘’Spider-Man’’ movie I can’t imagine, but a ‘’Thor’’ movie? Shit Yes, as odd as it is to have Stan Lee and the director of ‘’Much Ado About Nothing’’ on the same roll of credits, it makes sense – and not just fiscally. You see folks, ‘’Thor’’– not unlike Branagh’s brilliant underperformer ‘’Dead Again’’ (1992) – is like the chatty art-pic and the fluffy commercial blockbuster meeting head-on; it’s ‘’The Tudors’’ by way of ‘’Masters of the Universe’’ (in fact, the plot of this thing closely resembles that of the 1987 feature), the kind of film Branagh might actually get – and I say this with love – people to see.

Don’t head into ‘’Thor’’ expecting something that doesn’t even resemble one of the previous Marvel studios movies though because, for the most part, the written flick is indeed discharge from the same passageway…. Only with smarter dialogue than most, lavish production values that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘’Gosford Park’’ or ‘’Remains of the Day’’, and, well, this year’s Academy Award Winner for best actress, Natalie Portman (Of course she committed to this before “Black Swan” was even a blip on a critics radar).  And admittedly, who wants a comic book movie to stray too far from well, the look and feel of a comic book? (Christopher Nolan haters, shut it!)

Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne have written a ”Thor” movie that, like ”Iron Man” and ”Incredible Hulk”, have the fans in mind first and foremost; the characters and surroundings are loyally represented and there’s Easter Eggs aplenty for the initiated.

Annoyed at him for resparking a war of the tribes, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) father of reckless god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is summoned to Earth as punishment. Not far behind the son of Odin is his ‘hammer’, a powerful weapon and then some, that’s power has lessened as a result of Thor’s misbehavior (but yes, he’ll reclaim it and its power).

Conveniently, the fallen, er, God lands in New Mexico… and in the exact same spot a bunch of scientists are conducting some research. One of them, Jane (Natalie Portman) takes an instant liking to the muscle-man, even when her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) dismiss his claims of being other-worldly as nonsense.

When government agency S.H.I.E.L.D  (Clark Gregg is the man!) turns up and confiscates the scientist troupe’s research materials, not to mention takes an immediate interest in their ‘find’, Jane and friends realize the seemingly mad Thor is telling the truth.

Meanwhile up above, Thor’s traitorous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has hatched a plan that’ll see his brother – one he has always been jealous of – never return to his home but more so, Loki becoming king.

Clashes – mostly with hammer – ensue on ground, in the clouds and in this magic mass Asgard.

Beyond the performances and dialogue, how much creative control has Branagh had here? I think we all know the answer to that. I mean, come on…these Marvel superhero films follow a pretty austere guideline — the company demands an analogous structure and pitch for each, and even story wise, they’re calling the shots. As we all know, these recent solo superhero films from Marvel are all pretty much cock-teasers for the big team-up flick ‘’The Avengers’’(out 2012) so there’s not much wiggle room in the way of plucky plot tweaks or surprising shifts in character. For the most part, ‘’Thor’’ is structured and follows a similar set of beats to ‘’Iron Man’’, “Hulk’’, “Punisher”… what have you.  It has to. I guess.

Still, as much of an A to B job as these films are, they’re all very solid commercial blockbusters and ‘’Thor’’ is no exception – in fact visually it might just be the most impressive. As I mentioned, those production values wouldn’t be out of place in a lavish period drama or royal biopic, and they add so much to ‘’Thor’’ – the world of Asgard will take your breath away in a way no Los Angeles backstreet can. The film’s many scenes ‘above’ will have you in awe – they’re just splendidly shot and scrumptiously staged but mainly, the city and landscape looks dreamy.

Like any of the superhero flicks from Marvel, there’s not much room for an actor to perform per say (evident by Ms Portman’s pretty prop damsel in distress part) but Branagh does manage to at least make sure his cast don’t come off like Marionettes. Towering Aussie Hemsworth (TVs ‘’Home & Away’’, ‘’Star Trek’’) is suitably cast (and cut) as the hulk with a heart of gold, Royal Dramatic Art grad cum dependable thesp Tom Hiddelston (who has worked with Branagh a couple of times now) is welcomingly weedy and devilish, even somewhat relatable, as Loki, and easy-snag Anthony Hopkins isn’t half as hammy as he could’ve been, what dressed up in that hideous gear and eye patch. Of the earthly bunch, the lovely Kat Dennings hogs the lion’s share of the fun lines – Portman gets to kiss Thor though, so everyone’s #winning (™Charlie Sheen Pty Ltd).  Last but not least – because it is an immense cast – Stellan Skarsgard offers credibility to the part of scientist Erik Selvig.

Like ‘’Iron Man’’ and both ‘’Hulk’’ flicks, the first two-thirds of ‘’Thor’’ are the best, it’s only in the film’s final reel do things get a bit rushed and limp – ya know, the whole ‘quick battle before we go to rock music’ routine? The punch ”Thor” embodies earlier on weakens… but that, again, that seems to be the staple of most of these Marvel flicks.  Maybe something ‘’Avengers’’ will improve on (I’ve much confidence in Joss Whedon). Still, compared to most commercial blockbusters of today, not to mention the superhero movie of yesterday (Albert Pyun’s ‘’Captain America’’ comes to mind) these Marvel movies are solid, steady entertainment.

You comic book movie fans won’t find any new surprises here but you’ll still enjoy the heck out of it –  this is a fast-moving, action -packed and rather – no scratch that! Really – dazzling movie that, I think, does a great job of pushing us even closer to that ‘’Avengers ‘’movie. Two hammers up!

Must check out that spin-off flick , “Fantastic Thor : Rise of the Silver Surfer”.