Comic-book fans will angrily point out that this incarnation of the ancient Norse god was actually created by Marvel guru and cameo junkie Stan Lee back in the early ’60s, and that the film’s plot, which sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) banished from Asgard by his dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in an effort to teach the wayward warrior a spot of humility, comes directly from the source. But it’s clear from the decor, the dialogue and the nod-and-wink execution that everyone involved knows exactly how outrageously outdated this all is, and they’re going to have a little fun with it while they can.
Not that ‘Thor’ is camp – this isn’t ‘Flash Gordon 2’, however much some of us might have enjoyed that. Like a number of recent comic-book blockbusters, it treads the line between telling an engaging story and recognising its silliness, though it does err sporadically on both sides. For every solid action set-piece or inventive digital effect, there’s a ludicrous costume choice or stupid sub-Shakespearian plot twist: pity poor Tom Hiddleston, whose role as hissable trickster Loki is little more than a daft horned helmet and a dismissive sneer.
The supporting cast fare better: while Hemsworth pouts, Hopkins barks and Natalie Portman simpers as forgettable love interest Jane Foster, it’s Stellan Skarsgaard and Kat Dennings, as Portman’s scientist sidekicks, who emerge with dignity relatively intact. Hackney’s own Idris Elba also does himself proud as taciturn gatekeeper Heimdall, but the less said about Thor’s roving pack of becoiffed back-up gods, the better.
But the big question which hangs over ‘Thor’, and one which is never satisfactorily explained, is why Kenneth Branagh? He’s never shown a penchant for action, and that isn’t remedied here: while the film’s many noisy punchups are perfectly serviceable, this is a largely anonymous piece of work, lacking any directorial stamp. And this apparent dispassion extends to the figures on screen, with precious little attention paid to character development.
But for anyone looking for a spot of mindless holiday fluff, ‘Thor’ remains an endearing throwback to simpler times: when men were men, gods were gods and heroes looked like bodybuilders who’d just raided the dress-up box. Just don’t expect to remember much about it afterwards.