A review of "Thor," a good, strong opener to the summer movie season. It stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and an all-star supporting cast.

Share story

Movie review 3 stars

Not quite good enough to be thrilling, but never bad enough to be silly (except when it means to be), the Marvel comic “Thor” lumbers agreeably onto the screen to kick off the summer movie season.

Director Kenneth Branagh, better known for Shakespearean swordfights than superhero squabbles, brings a welcome wit and speed to a potentially heavy-handed tale inspired by Norse mythology: Thor (Chris Hemsworth, stunningly back-lit even when the scene is dark), a king’s son from the mythical land of Asgard, lets his petulance and ambition spark an ancient war — and in consequence gets banished to Earth, where he falls directly onto the New Mexico research vehicle of knockout astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as luck would have it. He learns a few things about being human, and she, wide-eyed, learns a few things about being superhuman.

It’s the casting of Hemsworth that immediately indicates the movie’s tone: An Australian actor best known for playing Captain Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” Hemsworth charmingly combines a godlike physique and an imposing growl of a voice with the goofy smile of a surfer boy. (Early in the movie, he winks, just once, and you can see kingdoms toppling.)

But the kind of warrior-god behavior that works just fine on Asgard (overturning banquet tables, flinging cups to the ground) is more questionable on Earth.

Portman’s character and her sidekicks — fellow scientist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), adorably clueless yet self-possessed intern Darcy (Kat Dennings, frequently threatening to steal the movie) — try to make sense of this mysteriously imperious creature who’s been dropped in their path, and find plenty of comedy along the way.

“I need a horse!” Thor thunders to a hapless pet-store employee, as Portman tries to hustle him into a car.

This kind of fish-out-of-water comedy, which gets livelier when a gang of Thor’s battle-costumed associates drop by from Asgard (a government agent, seeing them, asks “Is there a Renaissance Faire in town?”), threatens to overwhelm the battle scenes — and, once again, the use of often-blurry 3D effects doesn’t do much to enhance. (The film is being released in various formats, including 2D, RealD 3D — the version I saw — and IMAX.)

Those looking for thrills might find the action zippier in “Fast Five” (in old-school 2D), but “Thor” offers the more low-tech pleasures of a strong cast (also including Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s kingly father and Tom Hiddleston as his scheming brother) and a director who knows how to make actors click.

There’s surely little hope for Thor and Jane, but Hemsworth and Portman make it awfully pretty to think so.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com