One of Marvel’s most famous characters is brought to the screen with energy and charm, even though certain elements don’t quite work.
How do you adapt a character like Thor for the big screen?
One of the mainstays of Marvel comics since the 1960s, he isn’t just a man with special powers but a god from another realm.
But Marvel Studios and director Kenneth Branagh have managed to find a way of crafting a satisfying story which not only introduces the character to a wider cinema audience, but please those who grew up reading the comics.
Opening in the New Mexico desert, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her assistant (Kat Dennings) and scientist mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) discover a stranger named Thor (Chris Hemsworth) after a mysterious storm.
In an extended flashback on the heavenly realm of Asgard, we see Thor’s ruling father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banish his eldest son to Earth, along with his magical hammer Mjolnir (yes, it actually has a name and even a detailed Wikipedia entry).
Stranded on Earth he must deal with a curious government agent (Clark Gregg) and agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and learn to free his hammer by being more humble.
In addition, there is also a group of his warrior friends (Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas and Tadanobu Asano), the Frost Giant leader (Colm Feore) and a gatekeeper to both worlds (Idris Elba).
There is even a cameo from Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), preparing audiences for next year’s film version of The Avengers, where various Marvel characters (including Thor) team up.
Whilst at times it feels overcrowded with characters – a problem which wrecked Marvel’s Iron Man 2 – this is agreeable superhero stuff, which cuts between convincingly staged action on Earth and the fantastical realms of Asgard.
Branagh might seem an unusual choice to direct this kind of material, but his background in Shakespeare proves useful in humanising and even gently satirising the grandiose nature of the central character and the battles he fights.
He has also got decent performances from his cast: Hemsworth has presence as Thor, playing him with a nice blend of authority and humour; Hopkins and Hiddleston are solid; and the rest of the cast do their best with fairly thin roles.
There is plenty of fish-out-of-water comedy as Thor struggles with contemporary life on Earth and his chemistry with the scientists is well done, even if Portman’s role isn’t as significant as you might expect.
His fantastical battles are also well staged, with some effective sound work augmenting the CGI and lending a certain weight to scenes which could have been ridiculous.
The visual effects work must have presented a major challenge and most impressive is the magical, mechanical portal through which the characters venture from Asgard to Earth.
Less successful are the landscape shots, which – like a lot of CGI-reliant films – blend into a digital background mush, reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels.
Despite this, the overall production design by Bo Welch and the costumes by Alexandra Byrne are impressive, giving detail and believability to both realms.
An added bonus is Patrick Doyle’s rousing score which suits the mood and themes of the film perfectly, even if at times it is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s work on the recent Batman films.
This is also the first Marvel film in 3D and although the post-conversion is better than other mainstream releases (such as Clash of the Titans) it doesn’t really add a whole lot to the action.
After a decade of superhero films, it increasingly feels that Hollywood is reaching the bottom of its comic book barrel.
A list of the major summer releases already feels like an overloaded Comic-Con schedule, with Green Lantern, Captain America and X-Men: First Class continuing what seems to be a never-ending cycle of superhero titles.
Despite this, Thor is actually a pleasant surprise. Although not on the same level as Marvel’s Iron Man or Nolan’s Batman films, but there is something pleasantly old fashioned about the way in which the Nordic god has been brought to the big screen.