Since I wouldn’t have another good opportunity for about a week, I went to the midnight showing of the latest Marvel Comics movie adaptation, Thor.  Featuring Chris Hemsworth (who played George Kirk at the beginning of 2009’s Star Trek) as the God of Thunder, this movie marks a major expansion of the Marvel film continuity being used to lead into Avengers.

Enough about buildup and actors being in other things, let’s talk about Thor.

While paying some respect to the mythological roots of the setting, director Kenneth Branagh–yes, that Kenneth Branagh–sculpts a partially Shakespearean tale that stretches across three worlds, several family groups, and subtly asks what it means to be a hero, even though that question is never directly asked.

Hemsworth does a spectacular job of playing Thor.  He treats the character as a complete person who is also a prince and a god.  When separated from his hammer, Mjolnir, Hemsworth’s Thor beckons it to come to him and is subtly confused when the weapon does not answer.  Thor is presented with great detail, but never in such a way that bashes the audience over the head.

The best performance in the movie comes from Tom Hiddleston who plays Thor’s trickster brother, Loki.  In comics, Loki is drippingly evil; that’s not the case here.  Loki is complex and sympathetic, especially when he learns the secrets of his past.  He is a character willing to use subtle magic and illusion to get what he wants, there’s even a few points where he uses that subtlety in battle, making him an even smarter antagonist.

The other performances were all quite solid.  Colm Feore is careful not to make his depiction of the Frost Giant King resemble Chronicles of Riddick‘s Lord Marshal.  Idris Elba is haunting as Heimdall, the defender of Bifrost.  The three SHIELD characters, Agent Coulson, Agent Barton, and “Nick Fury” provide an official face to Earth; I applaud Clark Gregg, Jeremy Renner (whose appearance is brief, but surprisingly fits), and even Samuel L. Jackson for their parts.  I’m even more hopeful now that Joss Whedon will get Sam Jackson to act when it comes time to make Avengers.  The weakest part of the movie is Natalie Portman, but that’s only because the other characters are presented so well.  The real human heart of Thor is Stellan Skarsgard, who serves as a skeptical source of information about Norse mythology.

You might have seen previews saying Thor is in 3D.  Why bother with the higher price when the standard version is so magnificent?  Jotunheim looks amazing, even if it is a realm of ice.  Asgard is breathtaking and looks like a place where gods should live.  Earth seems so very small, which is fitting for a mortal realm.  Also, the credits sequence is amazing, bringing the nine realms together in Yggdrasil, all I can say is that it’s beautiful, which doesn’t seem to be enough.

The last thing that made me smile was at the end of the credits.  Much in the tradition of James Bond, the last line of the credits announces, “Thor will return in The Avengers.”  It was an interesting touch, one I appreciated since the next Marvel movie won’t build from Thor at all.

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