Thor, Chris Hemsworth
Credit: Mark Fellman/Marvel Studios

Can a blockbuster be momentous and lighthearted at the same time? Thor, Kenneth Branagh's rousing popcorn adventure about the Norse-blond, hammer-wielding god of thunder who made his Marvel Comics debut in 1962, pulls off something I wouldn't have thought possible: It restores the innocence to big-budget superhero mythmaking. Thor, played by the Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth with a bulked-up swagger, absurdly noble eyes, and a killer grin, is a stud-muffin Viking Hercules who is born to royalty in the realm of ? Asgard. After crossing his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), in a fit of youthful pique, he gets stripped of his powers and is sent through a wormhole, which crash-lands him in the New Mexico desert.

On Earth, Thor is rescued by a team of scientists (led by Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård), and he is almost childlike in his ability to cause trouble without trying. He speaks in incongruously formal King's English ("I need sustenance!"). Yet the movie, though it's often a very funny god-out-of-water origin comedy, has a stirring emotional core as well. It keeps returning to Asgard, where Branagh stages the political-familial infighting — centered on Thor's treacherous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — like an intergalactic Gladiator. The director also proves an unexpected maestro of digital effects (a crystal bridge, a race of scaly blue gargoyles who can turn anyone they touch into ice). On our planet, the film doesn't have much of a plot: Thor must retrieve his weighty hammer (the focus of a government security crackdown), and he does battle with a grand, fire-shooting metal monster. Yet Thor turns its hero's confusion — about who he is, where he belongs, and why he has these..feelings for Portman's feisty Jane Foster — into touchingly overscaled coming-of-age kicks. It's not art, but it's mighty fun. A-

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