Those of us old enough to remember Vincent D’Onofrio’s smoldering, pre-bloat turn as “Thor,” an auto mechanic who ignites a little girl’s imagination in the grossly underrated ’80s kidnapping caper—and Elisabeth Shue vehicle—Adventures in Babysitting, may not feel the need for a new version of the Marvel superhero with the unwieldy (and unpronounceable) weapon. But it’s May, which means that the summer comic-book blockbusters, they are a-startin’, with Kenneth Branagh’s Thor leading the pack, breastplate gleaming and tresses flowing. And it’s not bad. It’s plenty silly—starting with the god of thunder somehow falling into the present-day New Mexico desert from eighth-century “Asgard,” a mystical land in the sky that looks like it was art-directed by She-Ra—but it has everything you’d want in a pretty popcorn flick: action, romance, 3-D CGI and, most importantly, a sense of humor.
Thor quite literally has its head in the clouds and its feet on the ground, as Branagh splits the movie more or less evenly between the chrome-plated superhero realm of Asgard and the dusty, vaguely anachronistic human realm of Midgard, better known as Earth. When Thor (brawny newcomer Chris Hemsworth, who looks like Tarzan by way of Laguna Beach) is cast out of Asgard by his father, King Odin (a rheumy-eyed Anthony Hopkins), for starting a war with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim (more on that later), he tumbles down into the 21st century—conveniently arriving dressed in a thermal T-shirt and jeans—and into the path of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist studying bizarre weather patterns brought on by temperamental Norse gods. Having lost his magic hammer, Mjölnir, which Odin threw down the wormhole after him, Thor is mortal and powerless, but that doesn’t stop him from tearing up the town Encino Man-style while the feds cordon off the hammer’s impact site for research. Despite his feral behavior, Jane becomes smitten watching Thor eat his own weight in pancakes, and a flirtation is born.
Meanwhile, up in Asgard, Thor’s younger and physically weaker brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the throne after Odin falls into Odinsleep, which according to Marvel’s wiki is a sort of rejuvenating coma. Loki, who has always been jealous of Thor, refuses to overturn his banishment, and in fact appears to his brother in New Mexico, telling him that Odin is dead and that their mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) never wants to see him again. (It’s all very Scar/Mufasa.) Thor’s loyal warriors refuse to abandon their leader, however, and come to Earth to find him. All of this time-space continuum hopping, by the way, is facilitated by Heimdall (Idris Elba), a sort of intergalactic doorman who operates a porthole resembling a gigantic version of the amusement park ride, the Gravitron. And there’s a whole other subplot involving Loki’s questionable allegiances with the Frost Giants. Suffice to say that epic battles between good and evil abound.
Hemsworth, who’s built like an oak and who’s mastered the steely squint of musclebound manliness, makes a convincing action hero—and, thank Odin, he’s funny, too, in a self-aware way that softens Thor’s beefy brooding. Portman is refreshingly loose, hamming it up and looking (for once) like she’s having a good time, and Kat Dennings steals scenes as Jane’s hipster research assistant. For what it is, Thor is brawny, brainless fun, although the bits on Earth are generally lighter than those up in CGI space. The warrior gods may have super powers, but under those capes wit seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur—or, perhaps, the Vikings.