Thor was always going to be complicated. Bringing Marvel comics to life has been an exercise in de-mystifying the myths and bringing out the people behind, mostly. What do you do when your next character is literally a God? Add to it the added task of tying it in with the tone and the world-building of the larger universe with the upcoming Avengers film in mind, and Kenneth Branagh had a tough task on his hand.
To his credit Branagh never shies away from the realism or the mythology. He embraces the larger-than-life mythology, and builds a fascinating Asgard of high technology and magic, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are the champions.
He's a tricky one, our Odinson, and who better than the most prolific Bard adapter to helm a film that reeks of Shakespeare? The relationship between the 3 - Odin and his two very different sons - is heady stuff, and Branagh uses up all his flair in the CGI to shoot their moments in a very grounded, thespian-friendly manner, giving us that rare glimpse into the world where Gods have daddy issues.
It's slow to start though, and very, very clunky. As Thor, in his arrogance, decides to attack Jotunheim with his friends the warriors 3 - Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun Sif and his brother Loki - he soon learns of the futility of taking on Gods, and the wrath of his father who hopes for peace. Banished to Earth, and stripped of his powers, he meets astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and friends (Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård)
The Earth bits are similar, though a little less bombast. Choppy, terribly edited, and yet a few genuinely funny moments thrown in. The light-hearted moments from the trailers are there, but nothing much else.
Unable to wield his signature hammer, Thor tries to steal it from SHIELD agents. A terrific job, as always, from Clark Gregg, and an unexpected cameo from an Avenger aside, the entire sequence looks and feels like a low-rent action film - it's poorly executed and gets in the way of Natalie Portman being cute.
The use as well as waste of talent here is mind-boggling - Tom Hiddleston as Loki turns in a very low-key (sorry) Shakespearean tragedy hero like performance, and Hopkins is reliable as old dude Odin. Even Idris Elba as Heimdall, and Colm Feore as the frost giant King Laufey are very good in their limited screen time. Natalie Portman has one job - to bounce off the Norse God and provide humanity and levity, which she does in spades. Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Ray Stevenson, and Rene Russo are terrific actors given absolutely no material and even less screen time - their presence is a distraction and their under-use a crime.
By the time the final showdown between a re-invigorated Thor and mischief-monger Loki comes along, we have had some great moments of drama between the brothers and the father, but nothing memorable by way of action - and definitely one of the poorest of editing jobs. The last minutes are quite painfully devoid of any catharsis simply because the set-up seems not worth it at all.
Thor, then, is a decent addition to the Marvel film world, and is a fun enough distraction, but is nowhere near the tonal perfection of an Iron Man or the absolute comic book embrace of The Punisher or the X-Men. I can't wait to not watch it on an airplane.