Thor, Kenneth Branagh, 114 mins (12A)

Kenneth Branagh's comic-book caper is jolly and boisterous with a starry cast, even if the exiled god of thunder doesn't crack many jokes

The new Marvel superhero epic Thor is an altogether wholesome affair – which means, alas, that we don't get the notorious post-coital exchange between the God of Thunder and the fair maiden: "I'm Thor!" – "Me too, but I had tho much fun."

Thor could have used a few more lines in that vein, given what's on offer in the script. Arriving on Earth, and searching for his mythical hammer Mjolnir, Thor bellows, "Hammer! Hammer!" – and someone replies, "Yes, we can tell you're hammered!" As they say in Norway, "Bøøm bøøm!"

Steeped as he is in Shakespearean cadences, Kenneth Branagh probably never dreamt he'd direct a film in which the show-stopping line is: "Oh. My. God." Nor, most likely, did Natalie Portman ever expect to deliver it. Still, everyone has to earn a living, and Thor is jolly, boisterous, and altogether honorably executed.

The original Thor strip, launched in 1962, was a bizarre stew of superhero action and Norse legend, pumped up with yea-verily dialogue and proto-psychedelic cosmology. In the film, the thunder god gets a little hubristic in battling a race of Frost Giants and is exiled from the divine realm Asgard by his father Odin – played by Anthony Hopkins with flowing white hair, golden eyepatch and imperious boom. Shunted down a galactic wormhole to Earth, Thor is befriended by scientist Jane Foster (Portman), whose field of research seems to consist of driving around the desert in an SUV shouting at tornadoes. Meanwhile, back home, Thor's scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is out to usurp Odin's throne. What can I tell you, it's a whole saga.

The film is bizarrely overpopulated, its supporting cast stretching from here to Valhalla. The bewildered Jane – cheerfully pitched by Portman at the edge of screwball comedy – has two colleague-cum-confidants. The Scandinavian one (Stellan Skarsgard) is there mainly to reminisce about the old myths and doggedly go out on the razzle with his new buddy. (Quoth Thor: "We drank, we fought – he made his ancestors proud!") The other's job (Kat Dennings) is to make hipster wisecracks from under a woolly hat: imagine Joan Cusack playing the one with glasses in Scooby-Doo.

Among the immortals, there's a swashbuckling band of sidekicks: a noble-browed warrior goddess who could be fresh out of Roedean; an Errol Flynn type who goes into battle with a merry "Ha ha HA!"; a brooding Asian warrior (Japanese star Tadanobu Asano) who seems to be sulking at having only three lines; and a bulky bearded cove who's essentially the Brian Blessed of the team, but who doesn't do nearly the amount of Falstaffian quaffing you'd expect. Idris Elba, with a deep voice and a deeper basilisk gaze, is downright scary as the guardian of a cosmic tollbooth.

Thor himself, played by Chris Hemsworth, comes across as an affable Australian surf bum who's been taking diction lessons from Ian McKellen. Naturally, he's upstaged by his evil brother (Hiddleston, far from the polite family tiffs of Archipelago). Hiddleston's Loki is quite low-key, actually, and to good effect: no fiendish eye-rolling, but much dignified scowling under a horned helmet.

Brisk and unfussy, Thor feels bracingly old-fashioned, like a belated follow-up to the Superman cycle. The 3D feels flat at times, and after a while, you stop noticing it. But the look is distinctive. Haris Zambarloukos photographs the mythic doings in a heroic style suggestive of old sci-fi paperback covers with a dash of Leni Riefenstahl – which is pretty close to the look created by the great Jack Kirby.

The real star of the show, however, is production designer Bo Welch, whose Asgard is a magnificent celestial sprawl; the banqueting hall where the gods carouse, a gilded chamber laden with fruit and foliage, resembles the lobby of a modish Dubai hotel. I also liked the Rainbow Bridge connecting the different realms, here imagined as a rippling plank of fibre optics.

As Marvel adaptations go, Thor is not as classy as Spider-Man or Iron Man; but it's less overwrought than the X-Men films, less cynically disposable than Fantastic Four, and far more enjoyable than Ang Lee's Hulk. You can't honestly see why it took someone as heavyweight as Branagh to tackle Thor, but he does it with swagger and good cheer. Think of it as a fancy RSC panto, without the ruffs.

Next Week:

Jonathan Romney locks swords with 13 Assassins, the new action epic from Japanese cult god Takashi Miike

Film Choice

The Russians are coming! Must-see art-house movie of the moment is How I Ended This Summer, a gripping yarn of two men's psychological duel on a remote Arctic island. Russian cinema of the past is displayed in Kino!, a mammoth overview at London's BFI Southbank, spearheaded by Eisenstein's legendary Battleship Potemkin.

Also Showing: 01/05/2011

Cedar Rapids (87 mins, 15)

It used to be that in Hollywood a fellow from the country might be naïve, but he wouldn't be an idiot; think Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith or Gary Cooper's Longfellow Deeds, both for Frank Capra, characters who gave the city slickers a run for their money. Today, a naïf is also an imbecile; and the comedy goes south. The Hangover's Ed Helms plays a small-town insurance salesman, whose arrested development is exposed on his first trip away from home, to an insurance convention. Rather than a battle between cynicism and innocence, or a satire on one of society's most reviled trades, we're given a competition between Helms and John C Reilly to see whose blubbering and crudity, respectively, can most make us squirm. It's not worth the premium.

The Veteran (93 mins, 15)

The way British filmmakers are dealing with "the war on terror" makes American treatments seem positively subtle. Like Ken Loach's Route Irish, The Veteran wants to raise questions about the fate of traumatised soldiers on their return home, but descends instead into violent overstatement. A paratrooper navigates his way between drug gangs on his London estate and a laughable government conspiracy to stoke, not deter, terrorist atrocities. The inevitable bloodbath leaves one in despair, for all the wrong reasons.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect