Who's In It: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaimie Alexander, Colm Feore, Joshua Dallas, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Rene Russo
The Basics: Thor (Hemsworth) is all self-congratulatory thunderclapping, strutting around his space kingdom of Asgard like a pretty boy badass pro wrestler before the match has even begun. Then he pisses off his dad Odin (Hopkins) and both he and his mighty Mjolnir (that's the hammer) are banished to Earth, where he has to learn all that stuff about honor and worthiness and humility and respect in order to regain his strength and hammering abilities. He also has to hang around some Earth humans and repeatedly freak them out until they get that he's THE Thor. Once that's established he can go back to taking care of smashing-everything business and battling his evil brother, the smaller, un-blond, non-hammering, duplicitous Loki, who's trying to take over Asgard. It's nothing close to a spoiler to tell you that that wicked sibling is going down.
What's The Deal: When you tell a child the same bedtime story over and over (or let them watch The Lion King DVD a hundred times in a row) the story becomes a template for how they'll see the world later in life. There aren't really any surprises to be had on that 87th trip down the same road, but you still get satisfaction from taking the journey. So yeah, nothing in this movie is going to shake your expectations. In fact, even though everything I knew of Thor before seeing it involved his Elizabeth Shue-saving abilities in Adventures in Babysitting , I already understood that these two hours of origin story were going to be about how this one obnoxious musclehead who grows up and becomes destructive to all wrongdoers. And that's what I got, with some cool robot-fighting, freeze-rays, floating space bridges and neck-kicking thrown into the very loud mix. I can't honestly say I'm overwhelmed by his magnificence but I'm still pleased to meet the next Avenger tag-team partner.
That Guy From Hamlet: It was a very cool move to get Kenneth Branagh to direct this. He's best known for Shakespeare, not superheroes, so he gives the Asgard scenes a kind of regal, stately feel that other filmmakers wouldn't bother dealing with. And best of all he's not afraid to streamline, simplify, de-convolute and take his time. That probably sacrifices some of the thunder you might be hoping to witness, but he still succeeds in turning it all into a huge, glittering, digital entertainment machine, one that needs the biggest screen you can find to watch it on.
Character That'll Cause The Most Jar-Jar Binks Controversy: Kat Dennings (from Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) as the "whatever"-spouting girl. Her presence is meant to be an open door into the nerd world for non-nerd audiences, so her casual dopey humor infusion is sometimes welcome. But more often than not she's written in a way that's just plain-old irritating.
Sorry Purists: The dialogue is straightforward English--with the Asgardians sporting Brit accents--and there's not a "thee" or "doth" in the entire film. But that's American culture right now, nothing but people who didn't bother to read Romeo & Juliet in ninth grade. Getting angry about it will only give you a headache.