When a comic book to screen conversion features names like Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Branagh among its credits, one might expect a degree of elevation of the material above the standard ‘comic book movie’ fare. Although a great leading turn by Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth does give it a lift, unfortunately Thor struggles to maintain its momentum.

When Thor (Hemsworth) leads his mates on an unauthorised attack on the home planet of the Frost Giants – mortal enemies of Odin and his kingdom of warriors and heroes – he is cast out of Asgard into exile on Earth.Thor A chance meeting with an improbably sexy astrophysicist (Portman) will lead to an unlikely romance that could threaten the safety of Earth as machinations behind the scenes in Asgard will mean Thor faces unforeseen danger and we could be in the crossfire.

The most noteworthy feature of the steady stream of conversions from Marvel comic to screen is the degree of integration between films. Even though it is only small things – Captain America’s shield in the background, or brief clips post-credits – in each film that link them to one another, the effect is of making them feel integrated enough that the forthcoming film of The Avengers will likely have more chance of success. It doesn’t take much to reference another character or plot in the Marvel canon, but each time it provides another layer of enjoyment for fans of the comics, and, for comic book non-aficionados like myself, a greater sense of understanding of the world according to Marvel.

Although a certain cameo appearance in Thor has been well and truly leaked on the interwebs, the recent snafu featuring everyone’s favourite Australian film critic Jim Schembri makes this critic more wary of explicitly stating the who or why, but let’s just say that a brief appearance by another character from The Avengers occurs and it isn’t in the now-obligatory post-credit sequence featuring Samuel L. Jackson.

Hemsworth leads an impressive cast and does so with aplomb: he is charming and menacing and everything in between, but it is probably his ability to play comedic moments straight that is most endearing. Portman has a role of some significance, and, as always, manages it with skill and grace, although one could argue that her character could have been allowed a little more depth. Stellan Skarsgård and Anthony Hopkins are used really only in brief passages, while well-known actors like Idris Elba and Rene Russo appear in roles that seem beneath their abilities.

There are certainly aspects of the film that just don’t work, and this includes Thor’s companions Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three, whose inclusion mostly seems to have been intended to provide comic relief, but this never quite works. The film feels overlong, although at only 114 minutes Branagh has shown admirable self-restraint: after all, he is the director of the 242-minute screen adaptation of Hamlet.

Lastly, the 3D post-conversion issue must again be raised, although I will admit up-front that I have tended to avoid seeing films in 3D when possible and find the mad rush to convert everything into 3D a bizarre and potentially disastrous fashion. Having no option but to see Thor in 3D, however, I can only say it adds next-to-nothing to the experience. It also might be that it makes the viewing of this film harder, as the close-quarters fight sequences are among the most difficult to watch I’ve experienced. Dark, indecipherable images of vague shapes moving rapidly around one another making grunting noises does not make for an exciting experience.

These quibbles aside, Thor is intended to be big, loud fun, and – for the most part – it is.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 30th April 2011
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars


I think Kenneth Branagh’s awesome. Both Dead Again and his version of Hamlet were among my favourite films when I was growing up, and no one can balance bombast with sincerity quite as well as he. Hell, I even own Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; a film that I’m not ashamed to admit has many, many faults. So when I heard he was helming Thor, I was quite giddy with excitement.

Because Branagh’s the perfect man for the job, you see. He does grandiose and epic like no one else, and has an undeniable flair for eliciting great performances. He did Dead Again during the early 90s craze for thrillers, and now that it’s 2011 comic book movies seem to occupy the same place in Hollywood – everyone watches them. Thus, he’s turned his attention to Marvel’s newest Avenger movie, arguably the most over the top of them all, what with the magic hammer and rainbow bridges and gods with daddy issues.

The art design of Thor really impresses.Thor Asgard looks tremendous – kind of a cross between the worlds of Tron and Excalibur (and maybe a little bit of ‘Myst’) – and is the perfect balance between science and magic. The gods’ outfits are respectful to the comics without being too ridiculous, and a particular robot sentinel is everything that Gort wasn’t in The Day the Earth Stood Still remake.

Hemsworth sells the role with aplomb, and as many have pointed out, it’s his heroic yet often comic delivery that makes this rather silly film effective. Natalie Portman feels wasted in a role with no character arc whatsoever, and is constantly outshone by the irrepressible Kat Dennings. Anthony Hopkins is one of those actors who’d astonish even if he were merely reading out the phone book, and the other highlight is Jaimie Alexander, a little known actress that fulfils her Xena-type role as Sif rather well. Idris Elba is good as Heimdall, though he seems too restricted in his Big Shiny Helmet.

The action in Thor is handled decently, and Branagh’s obsession with never bolting down the camera suits the genre well. I was lucky enough to see the film without having to wear plastic glasses (2D represent!), so can’t comment on the conversion, though I’d bet that the darkened environs of Jutenheim would have made those particular scenes difficult to watch in 3D.

The main complaint would have to be that the narrative could have done with a little more complexity. It’s a fun story, but almost feels like the plot’s spread too thinly. The Marvel films have been all about broad brushstrokes, yes – as opposed to Nolan’s Batman or Singer’s X-Men – but all the same, there was space for more. As I said, Portman could have had a bit more to work with, and this would have made the film feel more complete without overbalancing it.

Thor is great. It pokes fun just as much as it is respectful to its origins, and continues Marvel’s run of not making any bad films (as much as I thought Iron Man was overrated.)

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 1st May 2011
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

Just Go With It Something Borrowed