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"Thor" hammers home the point that bringing a popular comic-book character to the big screen and finding the right blend of grandiose myth and fan-friendly humor can be harder than crossing over from Asgard to Earth.
It's a big, sprawling action movie, with one foot in Norse-based fantasy and the other planted with its earthy human characters. And while it's a bit of a mess at times, the movie (based on the Marvel Comics title) succeeds at mixing thrills and spectacle.
Thor, played with brawny authority by Australian hunk Chris Hemsworth, is indeed a Norse god, son of the mighty Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother of the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor is next in line to Odin's throne, but when he recklessly leaves their kingdom of Asgard to battle the Frost Giants in Yodenheim, Odin revokes Thor's powers symbolized by his big hammer, Mjolnir and banishes the upstart to Earth.
Down on Earth, Thor encounters Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist researching the bizarre weather phenomenon that, coincidentally, happens when Thor and his Asgardian ilk bounce between planets. "Your ancestors called it magic, and you call it science," Thor tells Jane, in a rare moment of quiet dialogue. "I come from a land where they are one and the same."
The script, credited to five writers, bounces wildly between the lofty Asgardian drama (larded with shimmering CG images) and the dusty scenes with Jane and her crew (played by Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings) in the New Mexico desert. Similarly, the tone veers back and forth from the fast-talking snark of the hyper-efficient S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his role from the "Iron Man" films) to the armor-plated spectacle in the heavenly realm.
Director Kenneth Branagh, whose Shakespearean résumé includes classy versions of "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet," knows how to employ those shiny costumes and Hopkins' stentorian voice to full effect in the Asgard scenes. He also brings a droll sense of humor to the earthbound passages, in part thanks to the quirky charms of Dennings ("Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist").
It's in joining the seams of these two worlds where "Thor" stumbles, as the transitions from Earth to Asgard never flow smoothly. Branagh is further burdened by two overtly commercial demands: planting seeds, such as an uncredited Jeremy Renner cameo, for next year's "Avengers" movie (which will team Thor with Marvel heroes Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America), and an unnecessary (but lucrative) 3-D conversion that dims the movie's bright images without making the visuals pop off the screen.
Hemsworth, who made a splash as Capt. Kirk's dad in the "Star Trek" reboot, makes a convincing thunder god, and his broad shoulders and roguish smile easily carry the movie. Hemsworth even makes the romantic moments tender and authentic with the petite Portman, whom he could wear as a scarf.
"Thor," like the character, isn't subtle. But the character and the movie get the job done, making sure the start of the summer blockbuster season is, indeed, hammer time.
The thunder god splits between Earth and Asgard, not always smoothly, in this brawny adaptation of the Marvel Comics title.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, May 6.
Rating • PG-13 for scenes of intense sci-fi action and violence.
Running time • 114 minutes.