So officially, the Summer Blockbuster Season is now upon us. So as we settle down for the next three to four months of overused CGI, shoddy storytelling and horid dialogue with the occasional gem thrown into the mix (fingers crossed "Super 8") we have first to set it off with a huge bang. Now some may argue that it was last weeks "Fast & Furious 5" which started things off. I however like it to be as close as possible to the real Summer (April 21st is still Spring!), even if Hollywood is insisting that it gets earlier and earlier each year. It has been said elsewhere of the oversaturated and heavy competition of this years Blockbusters, so that points to why Hollywood is racing forward before the green light of actual Summer has even been lit. So before we have alien invasions, giant robots, nefarious pirates, mutant superhero teams and a boy wizards last battle for his school, we have...........a Norse God with girly hair in a red cape. Yes, incredibly Marvel Production Company has decided, in raiding their entire back catalogue of (lesser known) Superheroes, to settle on 'Thor' as their next multi-million dollar property; a mythic norse god who wears a pointy helmet, throws a giant hammer about, and lives in a different realm to Earth, as being worthy enough to bestow a $150 million franchise on? I mean, I'm sure the guy has his fans in comic book circles, but is betting quite a lot on him for the Summer, and not to mention next Summers "Avengers" film (more on that later) taking too big a risk? Well incredibly and astoundingly, the answer is no. Marvel must be thanking their lucky stars, for their biggest risk and potential laugh inducing super hero film for this Summer is actually rather good fun.
That "Thor" is not the misfire many (including myself) thought it would be is down to its director, and its directors choice of leading man. "Thor" was always going to be a risky sell to audiences, but when news came in that Marvel had hired Kenneth Branagh as its director, eye brows were raised. Of course Marvel now have a track record of picking unexpected, but nontheless perfect choices or their films. Following on from Jon Favreau (who's directing career went stratospheric after "Iron Man") and Joss Wheadon (who just screams out as the only director who could potentially get "The Avengers" movie/behemoth right) Kenneth Branagh seemed at once both unthinkable and perfect for "Thor". Well now you can see how right Marvel were in hiring the man. He brings gravitas in the more dramatic scenes, while also later playing up Thors inherent ridiculousness. Mixing epic fantasy with the sci-fi of most other comic book movies was always going to be a tricky hurdle, but Branagh pulls it off. With a brief prologue introducing our earth bound heroes Dr. Natalie Portman (natch), Stellen Skarsgard and the sardonic Kat Dennings, Branagh wisks us off to the aethereal realm of Asgard. Narrated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) we are swiftly brought up to date on the Nine Realms, Frost Giants and the fact that we Earthlings have been protected by these Gods for hundreds of years. And as if all this wasn't enough information to take in at once, we have also to be introduced to our mighty hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his shady younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), just before a peace treaty is broken and our Asgardian heroes have to travel to Jutenheim to confront those pesky Frost Giants again before a huge effects laden skirmish breaks out. Phew. And thats only the first fifteen minutes or so. To be fair Branagh moves things along as fast as they need to be. Asgard is just not that fun a place to be. Sure, initial glimpses of the city and palace are pretty impressive, but the longer we spend there, the more dreary it gets with CG fatigue quickly setting in. Only when Thor's actions force his father to banish him from Asgard and down to Earth does the film begin in earnest. This is where the second reason the film works is revealed; Chris Hemsworth. Pretty much unknown for those who don't watch Home & Away or are Trekkies; here he arrives as a fully fledged star. His initial scenes on Asgard, while effective doesn't allow him to reach his potential as when he arrives on Earth. Those fish out of water moments are part of the films charms, as Thor has to find a way to adapt to his new surroundings. The film balances this wonderfully and doesn't push it too far and begin making a caricature of their hero. Sharing an easy chemistry with Portman, Hemsworth effortlessly glides into the character. All dashing smiles and muscles for the ladies; while still wielding Mjilnor (that's his giant hammers name for you 'norms') with plenty of conviction for the guys.
However, just because it overcomes its biggest obstacle does not mean it doesn't falter over others. Tom Hiddlestons performance is a little too 'low-key' to really register, there is a huge over abundance of CG, and all these names ('Jutenheim', 'Heimdall', 'Mjilnor') and talk of intergalcatic portal and bridges soon becomes a little too daft. The mythology is too big and the story sometimes struggles to fit it all in. However the film is light and breezy which is something always to be welcomed when more and more blockbusters are going darker and darker; mistaking dim lighting for something genuinely deep and transcendant. What happened to Blockbusters being simply fun? For all its faults "Thor" does not forget to have a good time. One other minor niggle is Marvel linking all their films together in order to set up all their heroes finally uniting next Summer. Now a brief nod here and there is fine, but is it just me, or is all this just beginning to seem like a very expensive and long trailer for next years Avengers film? Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward with baited breath at seeing all those heroes (and cast) sharing the screen together, but Marvel need to remember that these should be all stand alone films films first, and set ups for next years epic smack down second.
Marvels riskiest gamble is pulled off in fine form by Branagh and a star making turn from Hemsworth. A knowing sense of humour and fun is brought to proceedings and it nicely sets up Julys "Captain America". Daft, silly and forgettable but enjoyable nontheless. Now just bring on "The Avengers" already and stop teasing us.