In the present, scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is driving through the New Mexico desert with her two colleagues, her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and cohort Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). It is night time, and the three of them are hoping to catch sight of a natural phenomenon in the sky, but get more than they bargained for when the apparent aurora works itself up into a full-on storm resembling a tornado. In the confusion, Jane clips a stumbling figure and immediately stops the vehicle to check if he is all right - but he's not...
He's not because, as we find out, he is actually the Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and he has been cast out of Asgard, home of such deities, for reasons we find out over the course of the next half hour. This was the missing piece of Marvel's Avengers jigsaw puzzle, as a group of their hit superhero movies had been planned for some time to bring their plot threads together into one mega-blockbuster in 2012, but on this evidence Thor was the trickiest proposition to pull off. He was no traditional superhero, he had a legend behind him, and placing him in both the heavenly realm and the earthly one has unfortunate effects.
The main one being that nobody involved successfully made this look like anything other than two separate movies edited together, no matter the sterling work put in by Hemsworth in the lead, ably inhabiting the derring-do and the lighter comical moments. Director Kenneth Branagh was seen as an unusual choice at the time, but it was evident he was brought in to render the Norse business that much more weighty given his experience with Shakespeare, yet that served to highlight how far from such lofty ambitions a fundamentally silly concept like this was. A few of the other cast members were up to this split personality, but it was an uphill battle.
In Asgard, we are offered the tale of the Frost Giants, the eternal enemies of the gods, who were finally vanquished some centuries ago, but are making a comeback thanks to some mysterious character inviting them into the halls of the powerful entities of whom Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is the leader. This introduces the theme of living up to your father's legacy, assuming your father has one that is, but Thor's certainly does which puts him in a rivalry with his brother Loki (bland Tom Hiddleston) for the throne when Odin is preparing to give it up (see what I mean about the Shakespearean overtones?). If you cannot guess what's going to happen next, maybe the rest of this would come as a surprise.
Instead of more than a shade too predictable, which is disappointing, mainly due to the storyline being treated with far too much gravity, making for a leadfooted experience. Things do brighten up on Earth, and a conscious decision was patently made not to have this yet another Marvel flick with its heroes and villains cavorting around yet another city, so instead we get them out in the desert or in a small town nearby, handy for smashing up in a first half of Superman II style. Portman sounded a much needed note of humanity to all this nobility, and made a nice team with Hemsworth, but this was not capitalised on enough, so the supposed grand romance across the dimensions doesn't ring true when the odd couple aspect was going quite nicely on its own. There was plenty of sound and fury in this, but what it signified was more to do with the box office potential of a lucrative franchise rather than satisfying unity of storytelling. Music by Patrick Doyle.