Chris Hemsworth takes all of five seconds to impress you in Thor. About to be crowned king in his ancient realm of Asgard, Thor looks up at his mother and gives a wink and a brilliant smile—and it's clear that this Thunder God is quite used to leaving others thunderstruck.
It's no different when his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), soon gets tired of Thor's fight-or-fight recklessness and banishes him to Earth, where he crash-lands in New Mexico and then gets hit by a truck of scientists. "Whoa," one college-age researcher says. "Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR."
Hemsworth's magnetism buoys Thor into a better-than-average origin story, directed with Shakespearean grandiosity by Kenneth Branagh. There are battles and there are betrayals, not to mention a sizable helping of ye olde King's English. On Asgard, it's spoken with the expected solemn pomposity. But it makes for some rather funny moments as Thor adjusts to our own planet, as he struts around and puts an exclamation point after every line. (Walking into a pet store, Thor proclaims, "I need a horse!")
Branagh and a trio of scripters largely stick to the Marvel formula of delivering an epic superhero tale that nonetheless doesn't take itself too seriously. It's gorgeous to look at: Asgard is painted with a gold and copper palette while an enemy realm is menacingly dark, its inhabitants navy-colored, red-eyed, and appearing to have just walked out of a "Bodies" exhibit. The one visual aspect that doesn't enhance the story is—you guessed it—3D. Can we be done with this fad soon?
Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard play the charmingly flummoxed physicists who essentially adopt Thor as their own. Portman's character is particularly taken with him, for both scientific and romantic reasons; it's fun to watch the Oscar winner be giddy for a change.
But Hemsworth's the star, and any Marvel fan who's been paying attention knows that this won't be the last we see of him. As always, don't run out of Thor satisfied with the finale: Stay through the credits and you'll be treated to a titillating nugget about The Avengers, out in 2012.