With Thor, Kenneth Branagh, renowned for his epic adaptations of Hamlet and Henry V, makes his first foray into a field as intensely studied and debated as Shakespeare's canon - that of comic book superheroes, whose mythology and decades-long storylines are as hotly debated as the Bard's work...at least among admirers of popular culture.
Aside from the groundbreaking run byWalt Simonson, I've never been a fan of Thor's comic book, but I do adore this movie. Branagh has created a world awesome in its grandeur and majesty, a cosmology of epic wonders peopled by all-too-human gods and godesses, a place where science and magic have become indistinguishable. The towers and palaces of Asgard are truly a sight to behold, rivalling and even surpassing the beautiful landscapes of James Cameron's Avatar. The rainbow bridge linking Asgard to Midgard (Earth), made so famously iconic through the artwork of Jack Kirby, is brilliantly realized here - an artifact of advanced beings that looks at once a triumph of engineering and sorcery.
For all its grandeur, however, this is a very human story. Thor's pride and arrogance lead him on a painful personal journey; he is cast out of heaven and forced to live as a mere mortal in our earthly realm, providing much humour from the winsome and personable Chris Hemsworth in his breakout role as the lead character. As a stranger in a strange land, Thor is at first enraged by his predicament, then amused, then dismayed, and finally he begins to come to terms with his new situation and to enjoy mortals as people of value and worth.
For the first time in ages, Thor presents audiences with a genuine role model, which seems to me precisely the most important job of a superhero film. Thor has his faults, but he learns to be kind and compassionate to a fault, even to his enemies. His initial pride is soon cleaved away by events, leaving room for his better nature to shine through. When a powerless Thor risks everything to save hundreds of innocents, the moment is completely believeable and even moving. I hope children across the world are inspired by this film to be better people, the way I was inspired by Christopher Reeve's Superman and William Shatner's James T. Kirk.
Thor is not only a good superhero film, it's a flat-out good film on its own merits. There's far too much cynicism at the movies today; thank the gods for Thor, which wears its decency, hope and moral centre on its sleeve for all to see.