The Review: When we were children, there was no limit to our imagination. When the evil Transformers took over the world’s major landmarks, it would take the combined might of Spider-Man, Batman and Robin and The A-Team to rid the world of such evil. Then we grow up, and all of a sudden these imaginary battles must remain in the confines of our imagination, or be played out in CGI plastic at the beginning of a Toy Story movie. There are a few possibilities left in the world for the forces of good to combine, and Marvel is doing its best to bring them to movie screens near you. While the X-Men universe branches out into prequels and spin-offs, The Avengers is being touted as a truly cinematic team-up. Sadly, even this is not without problems, and the first of those is to create a believable world in which all the characters exist.
The Iron Man sequel of last year highlighted the three main problems within the current approach. The first was that the characters concerned all exist in a very specific universe, and Iron Man followed the template of the most successful superhero franchises of being set in a science-enhanced version of the real world. This left the sequel feeling very much a retread of the original Iron Man, with more mechanical baddies firing lots of bullets and missiles at each other. There is no escaping the fact that Thor is grounded in the realms of myth and legend, and in Thor there’s an inescapable shift in the ground of the universe which these films inhabit. The choice of Kenneth Branagh is another eclectic but sensible choice, as he gives the fantasy world a believability that still doesn’t clash with the light comedy at the forefront of the real world, and despite a heavy diet of fantasy spectacle in recent years the Asgard scenery still inspires. At the same time, the Earth onto which Thor crashes at the start of the film feels very much the same world as that of Tony Stark.
The second was that it all just felt like an extended trailer for The Avengers movie, with Black Widow and War Machine being ticked off on the introductory character list. Thor is just as guilty in that respect; if you’ve no idea why Jeremy Renner pops up in one scene then isn’t heard from again, you’ll be waiting until next year for answers on the big screen. But that’s as far as it goes, and Thor is very much a complete tale in and of itself, as long as you stay away from the end credits (the previous pattern of a scene at the end continues, but this one is definitely worth staying for). You do effectively get nearly two films for the price of one, with the action running in parallel between Asgard and Earth and both stories being equally enjoyable.
And that’s where Thor avoids the third problem that befell Iron Man 2 – it packed a cast so full of famous names that no-one other than Robert Downey Jr. had time to make any impact. That’s not the case here, as both the Asgard lead players of Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Anthony Hopkins as his beardy dad and Tom Hiddleston as his shady brother all excel, and similarly Natalie Portman, Stellan Skaarsgard and Kat Dennings all make meaningful contributions for Team Earth, Portman in particular a credit to the casting director, steely and determined but also funny and suitably awestruck at certain moments. Clark Gregg is once again on the slightly thankless SHIELD duties to tie everything together, but if anyone gets left out it’s Rene Russo, reduced pretty much to a cameo as Thor’s mum. Still, it’s all mightily enjoyable and stands well on its own two feet, as well as amping up expectation for next years’s Marvel-fest. Probably the best of this current crop of Marvel productions; let’s hope it’s the sign of a series heading in the right direction.
Why see it at the cinema: The Asgard scenes are genuinely spectacular, the Earth scenes make good use of the desert backdrops and it will help you follow what’s going on when it all kicks off later. Plenty of decent laughs to share with an audience as well.
Why see it in 3D: It’s a conversion, but it’s a sign that these are getting better. Brightness isn’t so much of an issue as some 3D movies, and it does add to the scope of Asgard, the only drawback being that some effects, such as the rainbow bridge, look a little muddy and confused through the dark glasses. Worth seeing in 3D but not really worth seeking out especially, 2D will be just fine if that’s your only option.
The Score: 8/10