“You are no match for the mighty…” cries Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in the latest Marvel opus.
The sentence goes unfinished thanks to a hypodermic needle plunged into the God of Thunder’s bottom, a pomposity-puncturing injection that sums up Kenneth Branagh’s approach to one of the more preposterous heroes in the comic book pantheon.
Eyebrows were raised when the British luvvie behind Henry V and Frankenstein was put in charge of this $150m behemoth, especially after some of his recent efforts behind the camera (Sleuth, The Magic Flute) and in front (The Boat That Rocked).
Chances are, though, that even the most ardent acolyte will be won over by a film that manages to poke genial fun at the helmet-wearing hammer-wielder, whether he’s lording it up on his planet or stranded on ours, while still adhering to the same bangs for bucks ratio as the Iron Man and X-Men cycles.
Ok, so early scenes in shiny, spotless Asgard do recall the campy flourishes of Flash Gordon, particularly when Anthony Hopkins shuffles on as supreme ruler Odin in gold armour and piratical eye-patch.
But once the action relocates to barren, rocky Jotunheim for some spectacular fisticuffs with its resident Frost Giants, the movie cranks up a notch, the huge blue meanies proving a significant challenge for Hemsworth, his mallet and his hangers-on (Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano and Joshua Dallas, amusingly nicknamed elsewhere as “Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood”).
Yet it’s only when Thor is banished to Earth for his irresponsible warmongering that the film really begins in earnest, his arrival in modern-day New Mexico enabling much fish-out-of-water humour of the Crocodile Dundee variety as he struggles to come to terms with our funny ways.
Teaming up with Natalie Portman’s sceptical astrophysicist (after her truck has knocked him down twice), her Scandinavian boss (Stellan Skarsgard) and her hilariously dry friend (Kat Dennings), the initially wooden Hemsworth displays real comic chops whether boisterously shattering coffee cups at a roadside diner or marching into a pet store and demanding a horse.
We’re having such a good time it almost seems a shame to periodically return to Asgard to reveal the nefariousness of Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, underwhelming) and his plans for domination of the nine realms linked by the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ that Idris Elba’s Heimdall stands watch over like some intergalactic doorman.
Nods to /The Avengers/ are supplied by Samuel L Jackson’s obligatory post-credits Nick Fury appearance and a pleasing, unbilled cameo from Jeremy Renner as archer Hawkeye.
And while the ending is a little weak, it at least comes after a splendid set-piece that sees an entire town decimated by Loki’s robot plaything.
Well, they don’t call it the Destroyer for nothing.
The most problematic hurdle in The Avengers’ path is cleared with ease and some style by a film that makes a virtue of its inherent silliness. You’re up, Captain America.