"Thor" mixes science with magic, but science winsS

Though Thor is the story of a god who crushes his enemies with a magical hammer, Kenneth Branagh's Thor movie is set in a scientific universe. Or so it seemed from footage we saw this weekend, especially of Destroyer.

Branagh, whose previous films include Frankenstein and Dead Again, is known for over-the-top theatricality and an emphasis on acting in his films. The 3D Thor is no exception, especially since the director says he loved Thor growing up and has even worked to include different versions of the first Avenger in his film. Though the hero's iconic hammer is pure Jack Kirby, Branagh assured the audience that "there are some Donald Blake touches" too.

Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster, a minor character in the comics who has a very large role in the movie. She called her character a rare "real, frazzled, grounded female scientist - not the low-cut lab coat and sexy glasses kind of thing." She added that she was happy to get back in front of a green screen with an actor-oriented director like Branagh, because "working with green screens is a skill - it should be something you learn in acting school."

Chris Hemsworth is the perfect physical type to play the god of thunder, and when we saw the sizzle reel from the film, I was immediately sold on Hemsworth as much more than just a pretty boy who looks good shirtless. We saw him in both action scenes and in tense, intimate moments - and he burned up the screen. Especially when he finds the hammer hidden at the heart of a secret New Mexico military installation and lets out a mega-shout to heaven.

His damaged younger brother Loki is played by Tom Hiddleston, the god of mischief who turns into a major badass who wears black fetishwear and big horns on his head. Hiddleston says Loki's main issue is that "he was the guy who was almost the guy, but wasn't."

Before we get into the footage, let me say that the 3D was good. It didn't feel intrusive, but at the same time we got a lot of fun squirts of fire aimed out into the audience - plus, of course, some hammer throwing. And the 3D made the sets really pop, giving the whole flick some texture. I'm usually the first to grouse about the overuse of 3D but I think Thor earned it.

So what was so sciencey about the footage we saw? First of all, the emphasis was on the secret industrial-science facility where Thor is being held by clueless fed types for part of the movie. Plus, when Thor is hurled to Earth by Odin, who casts the young god out for his arrogance and penchant for war, we see a shot that looks remarkably like something out of a scifi movie. We zoom toward the galaxy from a great height, as if Thor's home Asgard is in another galaxy rather than being some kind of god dimension. Also, Asgard itself looks more like one of those really gorgeous Alderaan-style planets from Star Wars rather than heaven.

Jane is the person who finds Thor when he crashes to Earth, so Thor is immediately treated like a scientifically-discoverable thing rather than a mystical presence. (There's also a nice moment of quippery where Jane tells her sidekick that "for a homeless guy, he's pretty cut.") And we hear him explaining to Jane that he comes from a place where "magic" and "science" are indistinguishable. This does nothing to quench our feeling that this is a scientific universe - it's just that the Asgardians have science that's advanced enough to be indistinguishable from magic.

So I know what you want to know: What about the hammer fighting? Was it awesome? Hell yes. Like I said earlier, there's a great moment when Thor finds the hammer Mjolnir, pulls it from a pile of muddy rock, and lets out a cosmic yelp. Then we see him fighting a variety of enemies, including brother Loki and his fetishwear-clad Asgardian corps, who have taken over Asgard after the death of Odin. He does a good hammer throw, and the hammer manages to look both cartoonish and kickass at the same time.

We also got a glimpse of Hemsworth doing the steely eye when he's being interrogated by a fed at the secret facility, who accuses him of being a highly-trained mercenary. I like the look of our mercenaryesque god in that scene: Human, but with a glint of godhood in his eyes.

The other ultra-awesome part of the sizzle reel was meeting Destroyer, who looked like a medieval version of Gort from the original Day The Earth Stood Still. He stands a few heads taller than a human, and when he arrives the Feds mistake him for "unauthorized military technology" and ask him to stand down in bored tones. Then he opens all the layered vents on his suit and his face plates open to reveal - emptiness, shortly filled with a surge of fire. Again, it feels Gort-like, but also terrifically old school, as if he has a dragon breath weapon.

I was left feeling like this film would be a pleasure to watch, full of awe-inspiring visual flourishes, great acting, mega-battles, and funny, tight dialogue. A perfect superhero treat.

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