Everything about Thor is fun. The sets and costumes in the mythological realms are totally awesome–glittering with gold and jewels and futuristic gears and skylines that make other sci-fi movie set designers thunderous with envy. You’ll want to see the movie a second and third time just to revel in its visual wonders.

The story, based on the Marvel comics oeuvre more than official Norse mythology, is one adventure after another, complemented with a sweet love story and two strong family dramas, one between father and sons, and another between competing brothers. The wild and glorious action is intercut superbly with human — er– human and super-human –universal tales. The villains are worthy of their heroes and the battles are truly matters of life and death. (As is the way these days, the violence is sanitized — there’s lots of jabbing and spearing and hammer-wrecking, but no blood, so I think Thor is okay for pre-teens.)

All the characters, immortals and mortals, are believable and fun to watch. Thor gets kicked out of the mythical realm of Asgard for being an arrogant, disobedient trouble-maker. He crash lands in the New Mexico desert where he meets humans for the first time. Natalie Portman is astrophysicist Jane Foster who combines her passion for hard data with visionary zeal. Her pal, Darcy (Kat Dennings), is wacky and ditzy without being annoying. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is Jane’s protective mentor and friend who conveniently kept the Norse mythology books his childhood. The government agents from S.H.I.E..L.D, including a cameo with sharpshooter Jeremy Brenner, are suitably suited and close-mouthed. (Be sure to stay to catch the post-credit scene.)

It’s the gods who steal the show. Anthony Hopkins gives Odin the wisdom and weary fire, and fashionable eye patches, that an old war king should have. (His wife, the goddess Frigga, is played by Rene Russo, wearing gorgeous gowns, but doesn’t have much to do–a serious flaw that I hope will get squared away in the sequel.) Second son Loki (Tom Hiddleston), he with wizardly powers and lofty ambitions, has the appropriate lean and hungry look. Helmdall, the guardian of the bridge between Asgard and other realms, is given a modern twist by being played by the magnificent black actor, Idris Elba. The Warriors Three include a Japanese fighter and they all do their comedy sidekick routines with appropriate bravado. They are more than matched by the nifty female warrior, Sif, played by Jaime Alexander, who not only has an eye out for Thor, but for a bigger role next time. Evil King Laufey of the Frost Giants (Colm Feore) is completely nasty, just as anyone would be after 5 hours each day in a make-up chair. His frozen ice weapons are beautiful but awful things.

And Thor. Oh my goodness, Chris Hemsworth as Thor is the best super-hero to come along in a long time. The Aussie actor and former construction worker sure knows how to take center stage. He’s a perfect brawny Norse God, but more importantly, he’s charming, poetic, self-effacing, and hilarious.

On Earth, he has lost a lot of his warrior-god talents, but none of his superior attitude, which creates a series of thigh-slapping fish-out-of-water sketches. He goes into a pet store and demands a horse. He smashes his coffee cup on the floor in a restaurant to indicate he’d like another serving of the tasty new brew. The humor in Thor makes it the funniest movie so far this year, certainly much more entertaining than the year’s wimpy rom-coms.

Natalie, following the scent of godly pheromones as much as her scientific hunches, takes Thor under her wing and chauffeurs him around the desert in her research van. When Thor takes Jane’s hand like a medieval knight and chastely kisses it, Jane nearly swoons and so does every woman in the audience. Hemsworth is an absolutely wonderful new movie presence, a more than worthy successor to the great Christopher Reeve.

Mjolnir is the magical hammer (more like a mallet) that Thor uses to create thunder. Engraved on the hammer are these words: He Who Wields This Hammer Wields The Lightning And The Storms. When Thor is banished from Asgard, Odin throws the hammer after him and it lands a distance away in the desert. A crowd gathers, and all the hefty local guys try to pull the hammer out of the ground. No luck.

So the government guys come in, and shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, build a huge guard complex over it, and make it top secret. Thor does his best to decimate all the men guarding the hammer, but when he tries to pull it out, he doesn’t have enough power. Poor Thor. Will he be banished to earth forever? Is he fated to lose his immortality and get a 9-5 haircut? Will Natalie ever get to see him in his Thor outfit instead of the tight jeans and beat-up plaid shirts he’s been scrounging?

Never forget the power of sibling rivalry and betrayal. Just when things get really bad for Thor, the movie shifts into higher gears. Loki turns out to be a really bad bad guy, there’s an enormous welded monster that threatens the small desert town, the Warriors Three and Sefi drop in to try to save the day, Odin who was thought to be dead, revives and yes, Natalie does finally get to see Thor in his warrior duds and it is a sight indeed.

One of the oddest things about Thor is that it is directed by actor Kenneth Branagh, who’s most known for playing brooding detectives (Wallander TV series) and directing Shakespeare, such as As you Like It, and Hamlet. Perhaps because of Branagh’s classical background, Thor, which could easily have been another shallow super-hero dud, has a welcome gravitas. It has a script that is full of timeless human drama, characters that behave with noble virtues, swashbuckling action, humor that is laughable without being smutty, and punchy dialogue–which might not be the King’s English–but sure is fun.

If you’re looking for a big movie on which to spend your precious movie dollars, Thor is the one to pick. Enjoy!

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