In the height of World War II, the American Army have devised an experimental training programme, known as the Tuskegee Training Programme, that consists of African American soldiers. Despite their hard work training, they are beginning to lose hope that they will ever fight in the war. Discrimination in the army was so rife, the men were often seen as unable to fight for their country.
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This boisterous comic book movie benefits hugely from Branagh's steady hand as a director. Even though it's over-designed and far too loud, the characters are strong enough to hold our interest.
In the mythical realm of Asgard, King Odin (Hopkins) is about to hand his throne to cocky son Thor (Hemsworth). But Thor recklessly ignites a war with an old enemy, so is banished to earth without his powers. He adjusts to New Mexico life with help from scientists Jane and Erik (Portman and Skarsgard). As they fend off interest from SHIELD agent Coulson (Gregg), Thor's mischievous younger brother Loki (Hiddleston) is making moves to take over the kingdom. Then Thor's pals (Alexander, Stevenson, Asano and Dallas) arrive on earth to help.
Frankly this is more like a video game than a movie, as virtually every scene is painted extensively with digital trickery. But nothing looks lived in, from Asgard's shimmery bronze towers to the plasticky battle armour. At least New Mexico feels real until a giant killer robot appears. All of this looks extremely whizzy (the 3D is sharp but unnecessary), and will please fans of the genre, but the spectacle continually distracts us from a good story.
That said, the plot's complexities are continually ironed out, as the narrative must jump through various hoops to set things up for both a sequel and Marvel's Avengers movie. So a lot of this film feels requisite, establishing relationships, grudges and so on. Fortunately, Branagh brings a terrific sense of humour to the film, with offhanded moments that make us laugh and give us insights into the characters.
Hemsworth is terrific in the central role, using his imposing physicality and sunny personality to maximum effect. It's not difficult to see why Jane falls for him, although Portman doesn't get much to do beyond bat her eyes and say sciency things every now and then to remind us that she's not a bimbo. Many of the other actors are unrecognisable under layers of armour, hair or effects, although they do get moments to shine. And even if the film isn't hugely satisfying, at least it leaves us wanting more.
After surviving the horrific encounter with a underground society of blind, naked carnivorous mutants, Sarah (Macdonald) is left dazed and amnesiac. But Appalachian sheriff Vaines (O'Herlihy) talks her into heading back into the cave to see if her friends are alive, taking his deputy Rios (Cummings) as well as a professional rescue team (Dallas, Skellern and Hodge). The question is whether they'll find survivors, and how long it'll take for them to become mutant food.
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