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Review of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor always seemed like it would be the hardest comic adaptation to fit convincingly into the shared universe Marvel have been piecing together for a few years now. Despite lacking the same level of public recognition as some of the other heroes, and having a magical background that could have felt out of kilter with the rest of the technology-borne ensemble, Thor has turned out to be one of the more solid and enjoyable Marvel films so far.

How this fantasy world would fit into the grounded universe of the other Marvel heroes without undermining itself with irony seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I was concerned that the tone of Thor would be too ironic, too self-aware, that there would be almost a feeling of embarrassment over the whole thing. It would be very easy for the film to turn to the audience and say “Yeah, we know, this is absurd,” and give the cast lots of raised-eyebrow moments and snide remarks about Thor’s helmet.

“If only there was a way of working out which one of us was obviously evil”

It was refreshing, then, to see how Branagh et al dealt with the challenge: they just ignore it and get on with the show. Thor’s background is presented early and up front and it’s just up to you to accept it and enjoy the ride. There are Frost Giants, Odin is real, there are worlds beyond our own and there is a magical hammer. And that’s all fine! It’s a comic! It’s ok if things are a bit out there. Thor is proud of its background and sees no reason to mock it or apologise for it.

This unapologetic tone fits perfectly with Thor’s character. His initial arrogance and pride means he’s never lost even when exiled and powerless, confidently smashing cups and making unrealistic demands of pet store owners. While Thor’s emotional arc is perhaps the most basic you’ll ever see on screen – a few minutes with Natalie Portman is all it takes to transform him from haughty, spoilt royal to self-sacrificing hero – Chris Hemsworth is charismatic enough to carry it.

More focussed than Captain America with its meandering centre and better than the bloated, tedious Iron Man 2, Thor is easily on par with the first Iron Man. The film is witty and enjoyable with a lot of good, solid, hammer-based action, and it’s left me feeling positive about the forthcoming Avengers.