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
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor