The summer silly-season begins with Thor, a puffed-up, turned-up cartoon splashed across 3-D screens.
It also marks the first film of the season based on a comic book, origins that become quickly apparent on screen.
The one-time Marvel comic now arrives with a reported $150 million price tag, backed by a director, Kenneth Branagh, more known for his Shakespearean adaptations than for his pulp acumen. When Branagh focuses on Thor in the human realm, it is no worse, or sillier, than its many comic counterparts. But when it ventures into murky other-worlds, it looks surprisingly bargain basement.
Thor splits its time almost equally between its heavenly origins and its earthly wanderings. In the former environs, Bo Welch's production designs look plucked from 1930's Flash Gordon serials. And the celestial special effects, credited to several people, look as though they would have been outdated a decade ago. But it's hard to blame Branagh for such pedestrian visuals since such elements usually fall out of the director's realm.
Thor begins in vaguely spectral Asgard, where everyone speaks in stiff, unnatural dialogue. There, the head cheese, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), warns his sons Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) not to face off against a tribe of warriors who look like Jack Frost on steroids. They do fight, of course, but in a choppy, confused battle that shows Branagh's limitations as an action director.
Later, having defied Pop, Thor finds himself exiled and thrown into the New Mexico desert where he is found by a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings). From there, Thor proudly adopts his fish-out-of-water mantle - saying weird things, not knowing where he is and generally providing material for everyone to comment on.
Thor hangs around long enough to retrieve the magic hammer, which gives him extraordinary powers that come in handy when his villainous brother arrives for a showdown in the middle of a small town.
Once again, in frivolous films such as these, actors are interchangeable.
The ubiquitous Natalie Portman successfully looks shocked when the script calls for it. Australian Hemsworth has obviously been spending much more time at the gym than in perfecting his diction in the title role. In his defense, in a cartoon like Thor, pecs and abs mean more anyway.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic for the Denton Record-Chronicle. MOVIE RATING
Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.