Patrick White 'Thor' shifts between drama, comedy

This weekend’s release of “Thor: The Dark World” marks the return of the god of thunder. This will be the second film released in Phase Two of the Marvel powerhouse franchise. Phase One came to an end with last year’s “The Avengers” and Phase Two was kicked off with highoctane adventure and comedy in Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3.” Director Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) hopes to continue Marvel’s streak with both blockbuster gains and engaging filmmaking. You can read my review for “Thor: The Dark World” next weekend.

Before Taylor took on the Asgardian golden boy, another respected director approached the project with grandeur. Kenneth Branagh wanted to bring the weight of Shakespearean direction to this comic book adaptation. What is interesting is that he didn’t see an obvious difference between the original material and Shakespeare’s works. The director considered comics a creative art form that was sophisticated and deserved both a director’s and an audience’s respect. For this reason Branagh was an excellent choice to direct, because he never looked down on the material even though he directed films based on the bard’s work.

Branagh’s best direction is present on Thor’s home world, Asgard. The production design by Bo Welch and direction of camera work by Haris Zambarloukos is reminiscent of Branagh’s Shakespeare epic “Hamlet.” The script written by Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz and Don Payne also provided a great weight to the film adaptation because rather than focusing on action scenes the writers chose to explore the conflicting nature of Thor’s relationship with his father, Odin. Later the conflict expands when Thor is confronted by his mischievous, cunning brother, Loki. Branagh seems most at home on Asgard as he is accustomed to the majesty of epic settings and working with actors who have theatrical backgrounds. The cast is one of the strongest Marvel has been able to assemble including Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo.

The film makes a dramatic shift from heavy Shakespearean drama to nearly slapstick comedy when Thor is banished. The god is insubordinate to his father and forced to live with humans as punishment. The god of thunder is tazed, injected by physicians, and hit by cars. Branagh knows his comedy just as well as his drama so he successfully pulls off these scenes similarly to how he did in both “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

The audience’s responsibility later is to follow the detailed plot as the editor forces them to travel between Asgard and Earth. This editing shows the vast differences in both setting, atmosphere and costuming found on Earth as opposed to Asgard. Some might prefer one location over the other and that often is based on their personal background. This visual and tonal shift could also potentially polarize audiences. There are moments that become bothersome including a sometimes funny, always annoying performance by Kat Dennings as an intern to Thor’s love interest Jane Foster (Portman).

This is one of the stronger films in the Marvel canon. Branagh’s “Thor” takes the material seriously, but also grasps onto comedic elements. “Thor” is on the same level as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which functioned as a crime masterpiece. Additionally, “The Dark Knight” introduced audiences to the passionate performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker; “Thor” manages to create super fandom for a less nuanced performance, yet still engaging one from Hiddleston as villain Loki. In addition to the acting, comedy and drama of the film, it also never lets up on the action, which Branagh surprisingly excels in. He chooses to light the areas brightly so that audiences are never confused. Branagh also manages to make hand-to-hand combat just as engaging as hammer-to-frost giant sequences.

After rewatching Branagh’s superhero epic I could not be more excited for “Thor: The Dark World,” but Taylor has some big shoes to fill with his own superhero film.

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