Thor – Dir: Kenneth Branagh; *ing: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston

It’s hammer time!

Have you ever noticed that a lot of comic book superheroes are associated in name with things often rather mundane? There are the creepy crawlies/stupid critters variety – spider, bat, panther, squirrel (yes, there is indeed a Squirrel Girl on Marvel’s ever burgeoning roster) – and there are also the household appliance variety – iron, lantern, torch, cable, and, umm, arrow. In other instances, the creators just seem to have named their heroes after the first words they encounter upon opening up their offspring’s second grade reader – doctor, fantastic, atom, THING. And then you have Thor, which puzzlingly sidesteps these easy categories, what with its Norse mumbo jumbo mythological pedigree and name that sounds like one of those text sound effects from the old Batman comics – Ka-pow! Zzzzwap! Thor! So the prospect of a movie version didn’t exactly feel like the greatest thing since sliced, toasted and buttered bread. At least not until I realized I was confusing the poor dear with Hagar the Horrible. That clarification helps somewhat, for Thor is just a teeny bit more super than the other superheroes, in that he isn’t, say, a laundromat mogul who likes to dress up as a rodent in order to fight street thugs; no, he’s a god, that’s right, a flipping god, who comes from a race of gods, and who has in his possession the super cool and crazy-powerful Mjollnir – the hammer of the gods. Of course with this sort of premise, there comes the inevitable faint whiff of cheese which you don’t necessarily want spread on your metaphorical cinematic cracker.

So fear not and rest assured, for Thor quite miraculously forgoes the allure of the fromage and instead delivers a rather sumptuous spread – of fast food, yes, but as prepared by a gourmet chef. The chef in question just happens to be celebrated Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh, who, not surprisingly, brings more than a touch of the Bard to this tale of battling brothers and banished would-be heroes. Half of the story takes place in the quasi-medieval parallel world of Asgard, where warrior-tastic King Odin (Hopkins) has defeated the race of creatures known as the Frost Giants (yes, they sound like something out of a Roald Dahl kiddie book, but scoff not, they’re fabulously conceived and rendered). Tapped to be his heir is brash, blond, hammer-happy babe fodder Thor (Hemsworth), while dark-haired son Loki (Hiddleston) broods on the sidelines. As it turns out though, Thor is just a tad too hung up on his own awesomeness and when his arrogance leads to a breach in Asgard’s defence against the sulking ice army, he is banished to Earth by Odin and stripped of the Mjollnir, having been told that only a suitably humble and truly heroic god is worthy of possessing it. Once stranded on the lonely planet, the anachronistic-sounding deity has to enlist the aid of breathless scientist Jane Foster (Portman) and friends, to find his way back, and that too before Loki-gone-loco ends up destroying his home world with his shenanigans.

Thor’s strength as a film lies in the fact that it is consistently entertaining and doesn’t flinch from deriving fun out of its main character’s Baywatch-ness; the stranger-in-a-strange-land flavour of Thor’s earthly exploits are bloody good fun and Hemsworth plays them terribly well – he is certainly a star in the making, if he isn’t one already that is. As director, Branagh wisely strikes a pleasing balance between the moments of levity and gravity, with Hiddleston’s Loki providing a wonderfully dark though strangely sympathetic counterpoint to the more broadly painted Thor. Visually, too, the film is a veritable feast. In today’s post-Avatar CGI/3D landscape, it can’t be easy to create something that still dazzles and intrigues, but Thor manages to do so, especially with Asgard’s wondrous Rainbow Bridge (okay, okay, so that too sounds more Sesame Street than God of War, but it’s still mightily impressive). Altogether, Thor does Marvel proud.

Squirrel Girl, your day is nigh.

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