Top 10 films of 2011: Thor

Top 10 Simon Brew 19 Dec 2011 - 09:57

Our ninth favourite film of the year, Simon argues why Thor proved to be one of the cinematic surprises of 2011...

Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. It's a democratic vote, which inevitably means that things end up in a slightly funny order that not one individual writer is likely to fully agree with. But it's still a fine list. Here's the latest entry...

9th place:
Thor

The perils of democracy mean that Thor falls further down our top ten list than it should, in my view, behind other films that don’t deserve to be listed above it.

But then Thor has always been a bit of a movie underdog. Going into 2011, Captain America was the sure-fire hit, whilst Thor was seen as the gamble. And yet, when you examine the worldwide box office figures for 2011, it’s Thor that prevailed, above both Captain America and X-Men: First Class.

There were a couple of reasons why this was the case.

Firstly, it opened the blockbuster season proper, and so had a bit of a march on its competition. The field wasn’t quite as crowded, and Thor took advantage of that. Secondly, it was marketed and sold well, but then that’s increasingly a given where Marvel is concerned.

Most importantly of all, though, it was terrific. A troubled final act, perhaps, save for the most glorious placing of a hammer in movie history. But the 90 minutes beforehand? Well, it was really very good.

The film clearly benefited from the fact that audience familiarity with the character was slight, for the most part, although the price it had to pay for that was an elongated opening 15 minutes, where background material came forth in abundance. It was quite a lot to take in, but it successfully introduced the two main characters with some style. Namely, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

At the heart of Thor is a conflict between two brothers, and perhaps it’s that which attracted director Kenneth Branagh to the project. Branagh was a surprising choice for the material, but he turned out to be an inspired one. In the first half of the film in particular, he appears to be having a ball. Watch the fluidity and flow of his camera, as he explores both the real life sets and the scale of the CG creations on the screen. It’s hard to remember a director quite so entertained by it all, whilst also remembering to let us in on the fun.

It’s also a potent remember at just how strong Branagh is at handling comedy. I’d always thought that his funniest film, and one of his best, was the little-seen In The Bleak Midwinter, where one liners and put downs are traded around with snappy style.

Here, while there’s less barb in the script, the comedy is rife. Much of it rests on the shoulders of Chris Hemsworth, who puts in a star-making turn in the title role. Accepting that he’s in a strong ensemble (Idris Elba gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie, lest we forget), he genuinely feels like the hero of the piece (he's no slouch at swinging a hammer, either).

And, in much the same way, Loki feels like a convincing antagonist. It’s here where the Shakespearian themes weave into Thor, and Branagh is an expert at handling them. The human drama, much as in the conflict between Charles and Eric in X-Men: First Class, is the spine of Thor, and the screen is thus lifted whenever Hemsworth and Hiddleston are on it.

I’d also like to commend the depiction of The Destroyer, which I thought was tremendous. Too many CG killing creations bumble at the key moment, or don’t take an instant chance to blast away their targets. Not The Destroyer. If the more recent Terminator sequels had featured this fire-blasting hunk of metal, they’d have felt just that bit more urgent, knowing that if it gets a shot at you, its chances of missing are minimal.

Not everything in Thor gels quite as well. Natalie Portman is far from her Black Swan best as Jane Foster, and that’s a pity. Then, that final act too often gets swallowed up in computer graphics showcase, before finally remembering which bits of the story have worked the best. To be fair, it’s an impressive computer graphics showcase, but maybe it’s me getting older, but I find human beings far more interesting.

Thor has been set up nicely for a sequel, with the small matter of a detour into The Avengers movie first (The Avengers trail bits, inevitably, feel a bit clunky). Sadly, though, Kenneth Branagh won’t be back for it, and that does mean there’s a fear that this Thor movie is as good as it’s going to get.

But if the worst we have in the cinematic adventures of Thor is this compelling, exciting, opening adventure, then there’s far more than many suspect we’d get come this time last year. In a year where several blockbuster movies impressed, Thor was one of the very best.

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