Dir. Kenneth Branagh
(2011, PG-13, 115 min)

Thor, based on the Marvel comic book series, takes itself just seriously enough to fail completely. It’s directed by Kenneth Branagh, which is sort of like asking Julia Child to prepare Ramen noodles, but it’s a nonstarter in any event because the Thor story, at its heart, doesn’t jibe with itself. On Earth, there are scientists (played by Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard) and government agents studying atmospheric disturbances and wormholes with advanced equipment. But somewhere in the heavens is Asgard, where Norse gods go about the business of godliness, and the two worlds never make sense together.

Thor's coronation at Caesar's Palace

Daily life in Asgard is a mystery that might have been interesting to solve. I wonder, are there commoners among the gods, or is everyone the supreme master of something? And what happens when all the good stuff is taken? After Thunder and Mischief were spoken for, I bet some poor latecomer was stuck being the God of Paper Clips or Long Division.

Anyway, all we get to see of this deluxe apartment in the sky are goofy-mythic ceremonies and speeches, pomp and circumstance and heavily costumed royals in halls and palaces that look like the lobbies of Las Vegas casinos. Conducted with a grim seriousness that belies the frilly Renaissance-faire-in-space trappings, the Asgard scenes play like the most expensive skit Saturday Night Live ever produced. One of the Asgardians, Fandral (Josh Dallas), a muscled blond with a mustache that curls at the ends, looks a little like Andy Samberg after some protein shakes.

For years, Asgard has enjoyed a truce with their mortal enemies, the Ice Giants. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) thinks they should all be eradicated, but his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, whom you’ll find at the bank making sure the check cleared), to punish him for his arrogance and bloodlust, banishes him to Earth and strips him of his power and his mighty hammer. Unable to lift his hammer from where it landed, Thor looks up to the sky and wails, and the screenwriters miss an opportunity for a couple dozen good erectile dysfunction jokes.

“Why is he so upset?”

“He used to be all-powerful, but now he can’t get it up.”

Natalie Portman, as Jane Foster

Stranding Thor on Earth yields some clever fish-out-of-water humor, but not enough of it, and the dialogue lacks the verbal wit needed to take good advantage of the premise. But there are moments of genuine mirth that indicate this film might have worked well as a screwball comedy. Watch Thor discover dining etiquette. Watch Thor discover beer. Watch Thor discover the sting of tasers and getting hit by a car – twice! Thor is at his best when played as a hulking man-child cut down to size by the mundane realities of mortal life.

But such a film was not to be. After some minor jollity, the film goes through the usual motions of plot mechanics and pyrotechnics. Thor’s jealous and power-hungry brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), sends down the Destroyer, a hollow metal monster that shoots fire from its eye-holes and blows things up real good. Then it’s back to Asgard for a CGI-driven showdown with Loki and the Ice Giants, and what at first seemed so silly finally becomes rather dull.

But this is all really just a slapdash prelude to the main event, next year’s The Avengers, which will unite Thor with various other Marvel Comics superheroes who have had (or will have) introductory movies of their own: Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man, along with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who is introduced briefly in this film. The Avengers will be written and directed by Joss Whedon, who may actually be able to make all that Asgard hokum work; in the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon introduced the villain Glory, a maniacal goddess trying to get back to her own home dimension. I think she and Thor would have had a lot to talk about. And a writer like Whedon might actually give them something interesting to say.