The films opening half hour seemed to conform to my expectations, styling itself as a Lord of the Rings lite, with little of the charm or unique aesthetic qualities that have made Thor such a successful character over the decades. The Warriors Three and Sif are all there but their characterizations are hurried and unconvincing with the action sequences being competent and entertaining, but somehow still a little hollow. The world of Asgard is presented somewhat simplistically and I found myself struggling to engage with it.
Thankfully the film impresses a lot more when the setting is moved to Midgard - Earth to you and me. Hemsworth plays Thor in an admirably straight manner and the interplay between he and the human characters is both endearing and and funny, without the humor ever being piled on too thickly or seeming out of place. Thor's character development over his time on Earth is a little unconvincing but still comes across as credible enough, despite his romance-by-numbers with Natalie Portman's Jane Foster treading a fine line between irritating and preposterous. The predictable love affair between the two is bearable enough when it simmers in the background, but soon outstays its welcome after being thrust to centre stage at the films climax.
Thor purists may be annoyed at the large role that the S.H.I.E.L.D organisation play in the story, but I found them to be a welcome presence, helping to tie the film into the Avengers franchise without ever coming across as too forced. Clark Gregg continues to grow into his role as Agent Phil Coulson and manages to come across as oddly likable without ever exuding much in the way of charisma.
While the Frost Giants are fairly bland adversaries, Tom Hiddleston is pitch perfect as Thor's scheming brother Loki. He originally auditioned for the role of Thor but does an admirable job as his arch nemesis, and steals the show on more than one occasion. Hemsworth too impresses as the title character, a clearly revered presence, still imbuing him with the humanistic traits that make him such an interesting character.
Thor is ultimately a success, far more than I would have presumed. The characters and the world of Asgard are all introduced well enough for the most part, as well as the all important connection between Thor and the human world. The film is far more than set up for the forthcoming Avengers movie though, managing to entertain throughout thanks in no small part to strong, convincing performances from its leads. There are a few plot holes and inconsistencies, but all in all, Branagh has crafted a more than worthy addition to the Avengers franchise.