Hammer time

Marvel's cinematic universe continues to expand with Thor.

As we inch closer to next summer's superhero summit The Avengers, Marvel (now owned by Disney) continues the work of introducing the myriad characters that will populate their future blockbuster. After previously introducing Iron Man and Hulk, Marvel now gives us Thor, bringing the God of Thunder from the comics into the cinematic Marvel universe. (Captain America will be with you shortly.) Fortunately, Marvel does the introductions expertly, and as the pieces continue to fall into place, it makes me think that this Avengers thing could be something special.

Thor (well played by Chris Hemsworth) is a prince in a realm of powerful Viking-type guys. His father (Anthony Hopkins) is training Thor and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to be king one day, but the young God is a poor leader who only yearns for the glory of battle. After Thor picks a fight with some ice giants (a great action scene), he is stripped of his godly abilities and banished to Earth. Powerless and earthbound, he meets a hot scientist (Natalie Portman) and agents from S.H.I.E.L.D., a government agency that seems to be collecting superheroes. It's only when Thor's homeworld is threatened that he becomes worthy of his god status and harnesses the power he commands (plus one giant hammer) to save our world and his.

The problem with Thor the character is similar to that of DC's Superman: How do you create a threat to a character that is pretty much immortal? Director Kenneth Branagh (working with a script by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne) addresses this by having Thor become vulnerable once he is banished from his home. (Kind of the opposite of the Man of Steel, who loses his powers at home.) Once he has his powers back, however, Thor is a badass the audience can connect with because they have seen him grow from weak to strong.

Portman's scientist is very one-dimensional, but it's impossible for me not to love her. While her story seemed at times to get in the way of the bigger picture, her onscreen charisma kept me interested. And at its core Thor is a simple story of a god who fell, only to find redemption through the love of a good woman. Oh, and saving his people.

You have to hand it to the filmmakers: they do an excellent job of placing Thor firmly into the same world as Iron Man and Hulk, though they do it in subtle ways. A mention of Tony Stark here, a reference to a missing gamma radiation scientist there provides a feeling of continuity and plenty of geek fodder to tide us over until Captain America hits the multiplex later this summer.

Thor is an entertaining popcorn flick with something for the men (big action, hot nerd Natalie Portman), something for the ladies, and some of the men (ripped, shirtless Chris Hemsworth) and lots and lots of people getting hit with a hammer. Is it perfect? Not even close. But as the official start to a superhero-laden summer movie season, I guess Thor will do. And if you're excited to see The Avengers, be sure to stay through the credits for a bonus scene that works as a good set up.