Thun­der­ing yarn

Marvel’s Norse god makes for a de­cent block­buster, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

YOU GET THE sense that Marvel Comics is be­gin­ning to run out of prop­erly vi­tal icons. Both Thor and Cap­tain Amer­ica – sub­jects of film adap­ta­tions this sum­mer – were might­ily pop­u­lar in their day. Nei­ther re­tains, how­ever, quite the res­o­nance of Spi­der-Man, Iron Man or Dare­devil. Cap is a bit too jin­go­is­tic. Thor is a bit too, well, con­fus­ing.

Think about it. The Thor comic em­ployed all the great Norse gods as char­ac­ters. Thor was fiery. Loki was naughty. Odin was old and wise. Some of the ac­tion took place in As­gard, the gods’ home world, but the bulk of the comic con­cerned it­self with Thor’s ad­ven­tures on Earth. It’s rather as if a Nor­we­gian pub­lisher had de­liv­ered a comic in which Je­sus-Man fought Doc­tor Oc­to­pus on a weekly ba­sis.

Any­way, not­ing the codShake­spearean na­ture of the gods’ lan­guage, Marvel has hired Ken­neth Branagh – still wait­ing to be Olivier-in-wait­ing – as di­rec­tor for the Thun­der-bringer’s first fea­ture out­ing. It’s not bad.

The stuff in As­gard, what with its madly ex­pen­sive but en­tirely pre­dictable dig­i­tal land­scapes, never quite es­capes the twin men­aces of chain-mail camp and sub-Tolkien pom­pos­ity.

“Har! Har! Har! Fool­ish dwarf-maiden. The very spine of heaven quiv­ers at my awe­some wrath,” no­body re­ally says.

How­ever, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ar­rives on Earth, ex­pelled af­ter rashly over­re­act­ing to an in­cur­sion by ice beast­ies, the pic­ture be­comes no­tice­ably live­lier and less self-im­por­tant.

Marvel fa­nat­ics will re­gret that the film ditches Thor’s earthly al­ter-ego – though frail Dr Don­ald Blake is coyly name-checked – but the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the puz­zled god and a party of hip sci­en­tists are gen­uinely amus­ing.

“I like this drink!” Thor says while drink­ing cof­fee in a diner. He then flings the cup to the ground and bel­lows “Bring me an­other!” Well, I laughed.

The ac­tion be­gins with top sci­en­tist Natalie Port­man en­coun­ter­ing an at­mo­spheric aber­ra­tion above the deserts of New Mex­ico. As the clouds rage, a body slams dra­mat­i­cally against the side win­dow of her ve­hi­cle.

While emo bof­fin Kat Den­nings and Nordic bof­fin Stel­lan Skars­gård scratch their own help­less heads, Port­man stares aghast at the visi­tor. He is big, blond and baf­fled.

The film then flashes back to ex­plain how the hero found him­self ex­pelled from the realm of the gods. Brave-but-rash Thor and clever-but-un­scrupu­lous Loki (Tom Hid­dle­ston), his younger brother, are ea­ger to in­herit the throne of Odin (An­thony Hop­kins in full Jones-the-Lear mode).

Thor is on the point of as­cend­ing when, prompted by some baf­fling in­trigue, he trav­els along a colour­ful bridge to launch a sneak at­tack against these evil ice things.

Well, de­spite their rough man­ners, the Lords of As­gard are ap­par­ently ex­pected to demon­strate re­straint, hon­our and all that malarkey. Thor is sep­a­rated from his ham­mer and sent to Earth. He will not be al­lowed to re­gain his full pow­ers un­til he has proved his wor­thi­ness.

Branagh and his cast take the ma­te­rial just se­ri­ously enough to avoid com­plete de­scent into pre­pos­ter­ous­ness. The ac­tors keep a straight face, but cheeks are ever so slightly dis­tended by quiv­er­ing tongues. Hemsworth de­serves sev­eral vats of mead for mak­ing such an at­trac­tive – yet awe­some – cre­ation of the cen­tral char­ac­ter.

A for­mer star of Home and Away, Hemsworth has that very Aus­tralian knack of com­bin­ing phys­i­cal might with ami­ably in­gen­u­ous charm. The scene where he and Skars­gård drink each other into in­sen­si­bil­ity reeks – in­so­far as such a thing is pos­si­ble in this sort of en­ter­prise – of af­ter-hours in­tegrity. One sus­pects the ac­tors re­hearsed vig­or­ously.

So, Thor will do well enough for the first block­buster of the sum­mer. One as­pect of the Marvel ex­pe­ri­ence is, how­ever, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ir­ri­tat­ing. For what now seems like decades, Sam Jack­son has been pop­ping up in the com­pany’s films to of­fer sup­pos­edly tan­ta­lis­ing point­ers to­wards the forth­com­ing Avengers pic­ture.

You have far, far bet­ter things to do than sit through four hours of end cred­its to see the lat­est point­less teaser for the 2012 en­sem­ble piece. The sec­ond com­ing has been less heav­ily trailed.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Norse code: Bang! Bang! Hemsworth’s sil­ver ham­mer

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