Hulking Norse warrior Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meets fetching New Mexican astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman) late one night while she and her assistants chase atmospheric disturbances in the desert. They get off to a bumpy start: she hits him with her van—twice—and he knocks her for a loop by claiming to be from Asgard and offering a revisionist approach to mapping the galaxy. Still, they hit it off. I’d love to tell you that this is how Thor begins. It would be so much more fun if, at least for a while, we could wonder if this was some sort of whacked romantic comedy, if our protagonist really might be some homeless, mentally ill Aryan with a gym pass and the unlikely hottie scientist wants to gobble him up him anyway. Alas, we already know he’s the genuine god of thunder thanks to a protracted prologue about the War with the Frost Giants and the troubled state of affairs in the glowing, surprisingly multicultural and deadly boring kingdom from which Thor has recently been exiled.
How cleaner, more compelling and a lot less stodgy and fanboy-tailored Thor might have been without that whole prologue (which consumes an entire quarter of the running time) or, for that matter, everything that happens in Asgard, where everyone delivers their stilted dialogue like bad theatre (the director is none other than pop Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh), no one has a sense of humour, and despite all the backstory the rules of godly combat remain incoherent: Thor is a rare example of a movie who's plot turns on a literal deus ex machina. Best WTF?! moment: Jeremy Renner shows up in the middle of this thing to do nothing but aim his bow and arrow at Thor.
At bottom, this adaptation of the Marvel Silver Age superhero comic is about dynasty. Thor was supposed to inherit the crown from his dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), but his response to an unexpected security breach proves that he hasn’t matured enough: Thor’s still too vain, cocky, a bearded banger dandy who would not look at all out of place playing bass for Maiden. So dad takes away his hammer and flings him to the mortals. Thor’s brother meanwhile is an insidious little rat trying to sneak his way to the top. They call him Loki, but trust me, there’s nothing low-key about this guy once he gets going. Eventually they’ll have to duke it out on earth and in the heavens, but their unfathomable powers, bathed in special effects, render their fights far too abstract to pack any real punch.