"THOR" STARTS out with 10 minutes of astro-mytho backstory that's such a load of B.S. Anthony Hopkins must be brought in to make it sound respectable.
This Hopkins does with his Shakespearean aplomb, narrating a preamble about interstellar immortals battling on earth, where the victors are mistaken by the locals for Viking gods. Perhaps because they dress just like Vikings? It's like something L. Ron Hubbard scribbled on cocktail napkins during happy hour on a Norwegian cruise.
Anyway, Sir Anthony makes it sound like literature. Hopkins then segues into his role as Odin. At last, Hopkins must be thinking, my godship.
It's the payoff for all graying U.K. talents. First a peerage, then a victory lap as a god in a blockbuster effects movie. Sir Lawrence Olivier, for instance, as Zeus in "Clash of the Titans." It must have irked Hopkins to see an upstart like Liam Neeson cop the Zeus role in the remake. No cutting in line!
But now Hopkins is Odin, puzzling over whether to award his throne and magic hammer (paging Dr. Freud) to headstrong arrogant Thor (Chris Hemsworth) or his sneaky second-born Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Long story short - favored Thor screws up, and ends up exiled on earth as a mere mortal. Still, he's awesome-looking when he's shirtless, so a local astrophysicist (Natalie Portman) falls for him fast when he falls from the heavens and lands on her truck.
Arriving just after Thor is the fabled hammer, and please don't ask me to spell it. The legend is that only the true heir to Odin's throne can wield it, so we bide our time waiting for Thor to learn the values of self-sacrifice and wisdom, so that when all seems lost he can pick up the hammer, fulfill the prophesy and smash some giant pile of special effects to smithereens.
All of this goes depressingly according to the movie's obvious narrative plan. "Thor" is not a movie you see for surprise or innovation, and adds virtually nothing new to the superhero genre.
Its advantages are Hemsworth's natural screen presence and likability and the nice turn by Hiddleston as a guy with a sneaky side. Other actors are given short shrift, even Oscar winner Portman, left to fashion a romance out of a few paltry scenes.
Lesser supporting players get even worse treatment. Thor's Norse entourage (including Ray Stevenson) is deadweight, and look as if they were costumed on a "Glee" budget.
The only interesting wrinkle in "Thor" is its role as a foundation for the commercially ambitious multi-movie "Avengers" project, with "Ironman" and "Thor" as the first segments in an ongoing serial that will continue with "Captain America" and "Nick Fury."
Minor "Ironman" characters pop up, there's a post-credit teaser for upcoming movies, and Jeremy Renner appears in a confusingly small role. He'll return in later films as Hawkeye.
This has major appeal to comics legend Stan Lee geeks (Lee has his usual cameo here), but there is less to admire here for fans of cinema.
Director Kenneth Branagh does what he can to add a dash of humor here and there, but so much of "Thor" is postproduction animation - pretty, but every object has the insubstantial feel of the digital hand.
Also, if you're strapped for cash, don't bother investing in the 3-D premium - the glasses darken the images and at least half the movie appears to be naturally 2-D.