It is difficult to watch this spate of Marvel films without sensing the derision with which they will be viewed by future generations. The way we snigger at Thundercats, so the teens of tomorrow will stare at us with revulsion for having allowed Iron Man 2 and Thor to crown two successive summers. Thor, this year’s Marvel blockbuster, feels much the same as Iron Man 2 last year, and I can’t imagine Captain America is going to break the mould come July. The creative team behind this bland and forceful slagheap have picked the pockets of Hollywood’s recent success stories: the epic fantasy of Peter Jackson, the bullying energy of Michael Bay, and the tongue-in-cheek humour of Gore Verbinski.
Thor is the headstrong son of Odin, the King of Asgard and the unofficial figurehead of the ‘Nine Realms’. As Odin ages and his authority over the realms weakens, the Asgardians’ nemeses the Ice Giants begin to grumble, and another galactic war seems inevitable. Thor, persuaded by his silver-tongued brother Loki, tries to take matters into his own hands; but all he succeeds in doing is speeding up the descent into war, and getting himself banished to Earth without his trusted hammer. While Loki steals the power in Asgard and slips towards the dark side, Thor must use his time in exile to grow into a reliable leader, so that he can return home and battle the forces of darkness.
The film… oh wait, he trots around after Natalie Portman while he’s on Earth… is the cinematic equivalent of diamante: it dazzles, but in a cheap and chintzy way. During the opening section we are given the entire history of intergalactic conflict in about thirty seconds; and I was too busy thinking up gags like, “where was this brevity in Hamlet, Kenneth?” to bother picking holes in the daft background narrative. After the history lesson, we retire to the floating, bronze and glass city of Asgard – the “brightest star in the firmament”. Somebody, somewhere, is proud of the art direction and animation that brings this city to life, but it just looks like a Lord of the Rings fan film. Even in three-dimensions it looks two-dimensional; and the costumes are a laughable cross between Spartacus and The Rocky Horror Show. In this setting, the twin delights of Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston (one of our country’s finest young talents) seem awkward and, rightly, ashamed.
When Thor arrives on Earth, Branagh substitutes CGI for cheap gags as our mighty hero is felled by a tazer and then a tranquiliser dart. Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård are far too talented for their hopelessly under-developed comic book characters; and we breathe a bigger sigh of relief than Thor himself when his allies arrive from Asgard to take him back to the realm of turgid animation.
It seemed, for a while, as though graphic novel adaptations were reaching their own post-modernity. Auteurs were twisting the old clichés into something closely resembling art, and Watchmen finally got its big screen debut. But this Marvel series proves that there are still millions of people who want nothing more from a summer blockbuster than the costumes and characters of their youth, filmed in 3D with expensive animation techniques.