Thor – Kenneth Branagh turns from Shakespeare to Marvel for a hero with real clout

Thor Chris Hemsworth plays the Norse thunder god in Kenneth Branagh

Forget Hamlet and Henry V, Kenneth Branagh puts Shakespeare behind him and gives us a hero with real clout – Marvel Comics‘ hammer-heaving Norse deity Thor.

Taking the role of the brawny thunder god is former Home and Away hunk Chris Hemsworth, though it’s probably his brief cameo as Kirk’s doomed father in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot that’s won him the Thor gig rather than the Aussie soap.

When we first encounter Hemsworth’s hot-tempered Thor, however, he appears as brattish and petulant as any teenager in a soap. Up in the gods’ realm of Asgard, he’s been stirring up trouble with his people’s age-old enemies, the Frost Giants, threatening the truce between them. This doesn’t go down at all well with his stern father, Anthony Hopkins‘ one-eyed ruler of the gods, Odin, who promptly banishes him from Asgard.

Thor - Natalie Portman stars as Jane Foster

Landing with a thump in New Mexico, he’s discovered by a trio of storm-chasing scientists: astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her colleagues, solemn Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and scatty Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). The discombobulated god, stripped for now of his immortal powers, is understandably puzzled by his new surroundings. It’s the cue for some cheeky fish out of water comedy. “This mortal form has grown weak. I need sustenance,” Thor says at one stage, and later walks into a pet shop and demands, “Bring me a horse.”

The men in suits from spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. are less amused. They’ve cordoned off the crash site where Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir lies immovably embedded in the earth and are soon trying to get their hands on Thor himself. He, though, even in mortal form, is more than a match for his human adversaries and shrugs off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best agents, making them look (in the words of their boss, Iron Man’s Agent Coulson) like “a bunch of minimum-wage mall cops”.

It’s very different up in the hallowed halls of Asgard, which are glitteringly tacky, as if Odin and wife Frigga (Rene Russo) favour architects and decorators who specialise in the kind of totalitarian bling endorsed by 20th-century despots. (Haven’t they heard? Bling is out.) In Asgard Thor has a far more formidable foe in the shape of his wily brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is seeking to supplant him in the line of succession and has nefarious plans afoot with the Frost Giants.

Tom - Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Chris Hemsworth as Thor

The dynastic feuding and sibling rivalry is right out of Shakespeare, which may be what attracted Branagh to the project in the first place (strip them of their superhero attributes and Thor and Loki could be King Lear’s Edgar and Edmund). But it’s the action that will get the punters through the door.

Comic-book geeks will lap up the muscular heroics and bruising battles, and they alone will appreciate the pointless cameo appearance by Jeremy Renner’s bow-wielding Hawkeye, a member of the Marvel universe who will feature more prominently in next year’s The Avengers. Somehow, I suspect Branagh’s old fans from his Shakespearian days will find this fantasy adventure full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

On general release from 27th April.

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