Thor makes thunderous impact for Marvel

Film of the week: Kenneth Branagh turns blockbuster director – and comes up with a 3D hit

Marvel Studios, who breathed life into The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man, are back with a vengeance this Friday with 3D blockbuster Thor, which follows the fate of the god of thunder after he is cast down onto earth for re-igniting war among the gods. But while this is a story with its roots in classical mythology, the film, as with the comic, is much more light-hearted in tone. Most of the laughs come from Australian Chris Hemworth, who is formidable as Thor, perhaps in large part due to his Hulk-esque physical appearance. He has previously said that he had to eat his body-weight in protein every day during filming just to maintain his physique. But credit is also due to director Kenneth Branagh, who, having taken on the floundering project back in late 2008, has provided the epic film with a much needed human touch.

Branagh, better known as a Shakespearean actor than a director, was apparently a fan of the Thor comics as a young boy, enamoured with "this hero with primitive brute strength and the dysfunctional family and always this sense of epic about it, the journeys and quests and vendettas". Of course it helps to rope in Natalie Portman, playing Thor's nerdy but beautiful scientist love interest, and Anthony Hopkins, who plays Odin, ruler of the godly realm of Asgard and Thor's father. Many will see this as another money-spinning stepping-stone to Marvel Studios' ultimate superhero movie, The Avengers (due out 2012), which sees superheroes from across the Marvel comic book universe brought together to save the world from disaster. But that doesn't stop this from being an action-packed, well cast and really quite funny film. WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING: Xan Brooks, the Guardian: "I'd hesitate to call this a good film, exactly. It's overlong and all over the place. But there's something weirdly charming about it just the same. It has its tongue in its cheek and the fun is infectious. For all of its flaws, Thor's never a bore." (3/5 stars)

Mark Clark, Obsessed with Film: "It’s hugely entertaining, visually stunning, absorbing, and action-packed... Branagh, in his first foray into blockbuster film-making has delivered with absolute assurance, and must surely have booked himself another trip in the director’s chair for the hoped-for Thor II." (3.5/5 stars) Jeremy Aspinall, Radio Times: "Branagh's epic fantasy may not be in the same league as the Iron Man movies, but there are plenty of amusing fish-out-of-water moments. True, the film has some scene-setting longueurs, but... the action is suitably earth-shattering." (3/5 stars) Chris Hewitt, Empire: "It’s bewildering at times, condensing nearly 50 years of comic history with a speed that can mean characters are paid scant lip service. But Thor is tremendous fun, and further proof that Marvel Studios knows how to handle its back catalogue." (4/5 stars) David Edwards, the Daily Mirror: "The blockbuster season kicks off in high style with a clever and often very funny modern take on the Marvel Comic favourite. The 3D is ace and the effects are spectacular, making this the most thoroughly enjoyable superhero flick since Iron Man." (4/5 stars)

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