Screening Log #16: Thor (2011)

Thor PosterWritten by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne based on characters by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleson and Anthony Hopkins

Marvel continues to assemble the pieces and build towards next year’s Avengers film with the first of its 2011 double shot with Thor. Burdened with the task of introducing the more “comic book” elements of fantasy into Marvel’s universe – where Iron Man and The Hulk were mostly based in the tenuously plausible realms of contemporary science – Thor faces a stiffer challenge: to engage the audience and acclimatize them to a more alien world, literally and figuratively.

All Father and SonsIt becomes imperative that the film is able to ground the audience however it can so that these more fantastic elements are able to sustain the drama and weight necessary for the film to function, emotionally and cinematically. Kenneth Branagh was not the name that first jumped to mind when I began hearing about Thor being pieced together; Branagh would have, in fact, probably never entered into my mind as a potential candidate. Branagh’s Shakespearean pedigree, however, is a great strength in terms of grounding the action of this film in character relationships that engender connection and emotion from the audience; Branagh’s staging of the sibling rivalry between Loki (Hiddleson) and Thor (Hemsworth) who vie for the affections and throne of their father, Odin (Hopkins), carries a subtle, but certainly present, inflection of Shakespeare‘s King Lear – perhaps by way of Kurosawa‘s Ran. By focusing on these familial relationships Thor is able to maintain a relevance to the audience that otherwise would be beaten thin into sensationalism by the scale of the battle scene and the, often gorgeous, visuals of the film.

Certainly this surprisingly intimate focus would be much less potent without performances to bear it out. Here Hemsworth and Hiddleson, especially, acquit themselves admirably; each actor makes the brothers both their own character while creating a believable and organic feeling relationship between the two. Hiddleson disguises the true nature of Loki’s plotting and makes him seem genuinely concerned for his brother for much of the film and Hemsworth loans Thor a jocular and amicable nature that softens his boastful and entitled personality, making his maturation through the course of the film believable. Portman does well with the relatively small breadth of material her character is given, employing her natural capacity to seem both intelligent and feminine in safe ways, fleshing out further what could have easily been an undynamic and stereotypical female character.

Impacted MjolnirBranagh is able to ground the film’s comic book spectacle with broad universal familial and romantic gestures – and a whole lot of canted angles – brought into focus by sharp casting and good performances. Because of this, when things go pear-shaped for the heroes and they have to engage in the prescribed comic book/summer block-buster action sequences, the audience cares in a way that many other comic adaptations have failed to generate. The tone is kept light and the film is well-paced and clips along through its scenarios. Not quite the surprise revelation that was Iron Man, but crafted well and with care and respect for both the audience and the source material. Marvel continues to handle its properties well and craft fine superhero films; should Captain America also perform to this level, Marvel will have deftly assembled its Avengers into a cohesive and entertaining universe.

3 Responses to “Screening Log #16: Thor (2011)”
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  1. […] recently seen Thor on the big screen – and also having recently started to read some of Matt Fraction‘s […]

  2. […] Branagh’s Shakespearean sensibilities worked to ground the fantastic world of Asgard in Thor in a way that made the film both more engaging and relatable than it could have been in other […]

  3. […] Bruce Banner, and consequently, The Hulk, it has to function in much the same manner that Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, insofar as it must acquaint the audience to the character, provide an […]

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