Kenneth Branagh returns to the director’s chair after the disappointing remake of Sleuth for a special effects-laden romp, based on the popular Marvel Comics superhero.
Thor is certainly his most technically demanding film to date but the miasma of digital trickery and pyrotechnics doesn’t appear to faze Branagh, who balances the slam bang thrills of a summer blockbuster with tender romance and broad comedy.
Chris Hemsworth unquestionably possesses the imposing physical presence of the titular hammer-wielding god of thunder, who is brought down to Earth – literally – to learn about humility.
A gratuitous topless scene pays tribute to the countless hours he spent in the gym.
He sensibly leaves the emotion to Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, who inject passion and fury to a predictable narrative that journeys from AD 765 to the present day, incorporating elements of classical Norse mythology to the underlying story of sibling rivalry.
In the fantastic realm of Asgard, ruled by Odin (Hopkins) and his wife Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor (Hemsworth) is an arrogant heir to the throne.
He acts first and thinks later, endangering the lives of his trusty companions Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandral (Joshua Dallas) by launching a suicidal attack on the Frost Giants, led by the menacing Laufey (Colm Feore).
“You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!” rages Odin, who strips his son of his powers and his legendary war hammer, and dispatches him to Earth as punishment.
The fallen god materialises in the desert of Puente Antiguo, New Mexico, where he befriends scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), protegée Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and intern Darcy (Kat Dennings).
The spark of attraction between Thor and Jane is palpable but without his powers, the fallen god must face the same trials and tribulations as any other mortal.
Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seizes an opportunity to ascend the throne and steer the kingdom in a new direction.
Thor is an entertaining introduction to the muscle-bound hero and friends, who return to the big screen in 2012 as part of The Avengers.
Action set pieces are orchestrated at breakneck pace and the digital effects are polished, including a terrific skirmish between Thor, the Frost Giants and a monstrous guardian of the frozen realm.
The 3D format is largely redundant. Most of the action is close combat and flight sequences are too brief to warrant the increased ticket price.
Ardent fans of the comics should wait until the end of the credits for an additional scene involving SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and an artefact from the film Captain America: The First Avenger, which opens in cinemas on July 29.
STAR RATING: ***