Belfast Telegraph

Thor: Kenneth Branagh’s 'Shakespeare in space' is hailed a movie Marvel

By Sarah Rainey

With monsters, superheroes and a budget of £100m, Thor is one of the hottest new cinema releases.

The latest adaptation from Marvel comics will have fans queueing round the block when it hits our screens next week if the critics are to be believed.

Big cast names include Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, and it is brimming with state-of-the-art CGI and special effects.

While initial reviews have been positive, it has raised eyebrows among the critics — for its unusual choice of director.

Belfast-born actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh was once hailed as the next Laurence |Olivier. Nominated for an Oscar before he turned 30, he was respected in film circles for his roles in Shakespeare classics Hamlet and Henry V.

Branagh’s latest offering sees him swap the Bard for a very modern adaptation — a movie based on a comic book (below).

There was speculation about why the Ulsterman took on such an unusual project.

Branagh (50) himself said he was surprised to be directing Thor after more than two decades of high-brow acting. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month, he revealed he had read the comics as a child and jumped at the chance to direct Thor.

“This amount of interest in your film — that’s rare, that’s thrilling,” he said. “Am I expecting it to please everyone? No. Am I expecting it to entertain everyone? Yes.”

Thor is his 14th offering as director.

The Belfast man’s more recent efforts such as Sleuth, The Magic Flute and As You Like It were widely dismissed as artistic or commercial failures. He was offered the director’s chair for Thor in July 2009 after the first-choice director, Matthew Vaughn, dropped out.

Film critic Mike Catto, a University of Ulster lecturer, said Branagh dubbed his latest film “Shakespeare in space”.

“He has said there are elements in it that are like The Tempest or Twelfth Night,” he said. “Thor is certainly not a typical Kenneth Branagh film — but you can see how he has brought his experience to bear.

“All the inhabitants of Asgard, the fantasy land in the film, speak with clipped drama school accents which Branagh has obviously coached them in.

“I thought it was a good comic book story, not great, but not nearly as bad as I thought.”

Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel comics, reportedly said Branagh was “very Shakespearean” on set.

“He’s definitely about character, which is the quintessential trait you have to have to understand the Marvel characters,” he said. “It’s not just big hammers and capes and things like that. It’s about what makes the character tick.”

Profile

Kenneth Branagh starred in the 1980s adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Hamlet and Love’s Labour Lost. His recent roles include The Boat That Rocked and Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets. After decades of big-screen success, the actor-turned-director has featured in a number of television shows, including Wallander and Walking With Dinosaurs. A lifelong Linfield supporter, he frequently visits Northern Ireland and is due to perform in The Painkiller at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in September.

What the reviewers said

The Guardian, Xan Brooks:

“I'd hesitate to call this a good film, exactly. But there's something weirdly charming about it just the same. Branagh has knocked his film together with a terrific, freewheeling gusto. For all of its flaws, Thor's never a bore.”

Total Film, Neil Smith:

“Eyebrows were raised when the British luvvie behind Henry V and Frankenstein was put in charge of this $150m behemoth.

“Chances are, though, that even the most ardent acolyte will be won over by a film that manages to poke genial fun at the helmet-wearing hammer-wielder.”

Variety, Richard Kuipers:

“Branagh succeeds in |rendering his mythological characters deeply human.”

Quickflix, Simon Miraudo:

“Kenneth Branagh’s Thor may not achieve the level of epic, Shakespearean awesomeness it so dearly covets, but its failings could only be a footnote in the annals of comic-book movie history.

“Branagh handles the character moments better than the action sequences, and it feels as if the special effects department took over in these scenes accordingly.”

The Hollywood Reporter, Megan Lehmann:

“It’s a noisy, universe-rattling spectacle full of sound and fury with a suitably epic design, solid digital effects and a healthy respect for the comic-book lore that turned a mythological Norse god into a founding member of the superhero team known as The Avengers.”

Sky Movies, Matt Risley:

“It’s epic stuff, but with some superlative casting, Branagh brings a warmth and humour to proceedings that retains the grandeur of the fantasy world without ever lessening the interactions with the human one.”

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