Norse-mythical Asgard crosses hammers with modern-day spook trail New Mexico in this latest addition to the Marvel Comics movie franchise. Kim Newman even detects a touch of Shakespeare

from our July 2011 issue

US 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
With Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba
114 mins | Cert 12A


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Asgard, realm of the Norse gods. Thor, son of Odin, impulsively leads a raiding party – which includes his brother Loki – into Jotunheim, land of the Frost Giants, breaking a truce that has held for years. Decreeing that Thor be stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, Odin casts a spell on Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer: only if his son learns humility will its powers be restored to him. Loki learns that he is the natural son of Laufey, king of the Frost Giants, found abandoned as a baby by Odin.

In New Mexico, Thor meets Jane Foster, a scientist investigating weather anomalies, and is taken for a crazy homeless person when he talks about Asgard. Odin throws Mjolnir at Earth; SHIELD, a US covert agency, establishes a base to study the hammer, which no mortal can lift. Thor breaks into the base in an attempt to reclaim the hammer.

Odin falls into a sleep-like coma, and Loki takes the throne, incapacitating Heimdall, guardian of the rainbow bridge between the realms, and conspiring with Laufey to enable the Frost Giants to invade Asgard. Loki also sends the Destroyer, an armoured killing machine, to Earth to finish off Thor. Thor’s friends go to Earth to stand with him in battle. Thor’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Jane and other innocents makes Mjolnir fly to his hand. Thor smites the Destroyer and returns to Asgard, where he discovers that Loki has murdered Laufey and is about to commit genocide against the Frost Giants. Thor and Loki fight, and Odin revives. To save Jotunheim, Thor smashes the rainbow bridge. Loki falls into the void.

Jane’s colleague Professor Selvig meets with SHIELD head Nick Fury to examine a source of immense power. It seems that Selvig is possessed by Loki.


Well before the Marvel boom of the 1960s, it had been suggested that comic-book superheroes were the 20th-century equivalents of sons of Gods of legend. Superman, the first superhero, owes much to Hercules, Thor or even Jesus (a connection that comics, whose creators were overwhelmingly if nervously Jewish, were careful not to make).

In 1962, during a creative burst that yielded the cornerstone characters of the Marvel universe, writer-editor Stan Lee (and his writer brother Larry Lieber) and Jack Kirby went back to the wellspring and blended Asgardian saga with science fiction in ‘The Stone Men from Saturn’, in which a seemingly ordinary mortal is imbued with the power (and costume) of thunder god Thor when he picks up a stick that turns into a hammer. In the early days Thor spent as much time smashing communists as dealing with his evil brother Loki, but the stories came to dwell more and more on cosmic concerns, and the character has stuck around ever since (Eric Allan Kramer played him in the 1988 TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns). Now, with Kenneth Branagh’s new film, the son of Odin joins Marvel’s ongoing movie franchise, complete with plot threads picked up from the Iron Man pictures and trailing into the forthcoming Captain America and The Avengers.


When covert agency SHIELD tries to assess the energy signature of Thor’s magic hammer, it’s clear that the disconnect between the worlds of Asgard (a blend of Richard Donner’s Krypton and Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle) and New Mexico, where much of the film’s action takes place, will be blithely ignored. There’s minor bleating that perhaps the Asgardians are aliens once taken for gods, and Natalie Portman’s heroine (a spunky scientist rather than a weedy nurse) quotes Arthur C. Clarke’s saw about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, but Branagh lets pieces fall where they may. The pack-rat borrowings of Marvel are exposed when Thor’s comrades are described as “Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood” – though it might be a sop to the less educated that the character most obviously borrowed from another source isn’t likened to his model, Falstaff.

Chris Hemsworth makes an imposing, good-humoured Thor, learning humility when tased by a grad student or smashing his coffee cup to call for a refill, but the motor of the film is Tom Hiddleston’s complex, conflicted Loki (Branagh, remember, had a career highlight as Iago). Loki is a triple-crosser, betraying his foster father Odin to his real father Laufey so that he can murder the latter in a misguided attempt to please the former.

Thor has the mandatory daddy issues but is a rare modern superhero with a present father (Anthony Hopkins, one eye twinkling) and a refreshing freedom from angst. This forges Thor’s place in his own franchise and is genial and exciting enough to make up for superfluous 3D, clunky thigh-slapping Asgardian speechifying and a slight lack of full-on hammer action in the Midgard sections.

See also

The Green Hornet sells out!: Kim Newman tracks the masked crusader’s journey from radio days to 21st-century big-screen vacuity (January 2011)

From strip to screen: Guillaume Gendron charts the fortunes of two generations of French comic-strip mavericks at the movies (August 2010)

Inflammable desires: Tony Rayns on Kenneth Anger’s ‘Magick Lantern Cycle’ (July 2009)

Hellboy reviewed by Kim Newman (September 2004)

Hulk reviewed by Rob White (August 2003)

X-Men 2 reviewed by Kim Newman (June 2003)

Spiderman reviewed by Kim Newman (July 2002)

Last Updated: 10 May 2012