The summer of 2011 could easily be known as “The Summer of Heroes” (especially superheroes) with the likes of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “X-Men: First Class” gracing the silver screen. But before any of those heroes made their triumphant arrival in theaters, the summer was kicked off to the thunderous release of the box office hit, “Thor”.

After an impulsive act of violence jeopardizes the sanctity of Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his power and banished, by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), to Earth. There he encounters the lovely Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and realizes that there is more to life than glorious battles alongside his fellow Asgardians. With Thor out of the way, his step-brother Loki puts into motion a plan that threatens to destroy all Thor holds dear in Asgard and on Earth. With time running out Thor must prove to be worthy of the power he wielded and once more command the fury of the storm.

Of all the comic book characters that Marvel has either already adapted for feature films or have announced plans to do so, Thor seemed the most audacious as he is hardly one of their most recognizable comic staples to the general public. Not to mention, the choice of Kenneth Branagh, an actor and director known for his Shakespearean background, didn’t seem an ideal fit for bringing the mystical realm of Asgard to life on the big screen.

However, after viewing this outstanding summer blockbuster, I must say that Marvel’s bold choices paid off brilliantly. Not only is Thor fast-becoming a household name, but Kenneth Branagh proved to be a truly inspired choice for director. No doubt thanks to his Shakespearean roots, Branagh successfully envisioned a nearly perfect blend of the fantastic elements of Asgard, with the realism (or hyperrealism) that has been established in Marvel Studios’ previous film releases with which this movie is connected.

Written by the writing duo of Ashley Miller and Zack Stenz (“X-Men: First Class”), alongside Don Payne (“Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer”), and based on a story from comic book and film scribe J. Michael Stracyznski (“Changeling”) and Mark Protosevich (“I Am Legend”), the story for “Thor” is epic in scope (much larger than most first-attempt comic book adaptations ever dare), featuring incredible action, unforgettable characters, with plenty of drama, intensity, a budding romance, and even some comedy to boot.

Another apparent stroke of genius for this film was the casting, which was spot-on in nearly every instance. Leading the assemblage of characters is relative newcomer (to our shores anyway) Chris Hemsworth as the thunderer himself, Thor. Chris portrays Thor with such bravado, arrogance, and a seemingly unshakable desire for battle that exactly matches his early comic book days.

It is also worth mentioning that upon Thor’s exile to Earth, Chris slowly brings out a softer side to the demoted god of thunder. Naturally conveying Thor’s gradual embracing of humility and an understanding that violence isn’t always the best solution.

With these two distinct sides to the character, we are left with a very well-rounded and believable hero of mythic proportions that feels much more real than I had ever expected.

Alongside, Thor is his step-brother Loki played to absolute perfection by Tom Hiddleston (“The Gathering Storm”). Loki has always been portrayed as a villainous character that went from harmless mischief to ultimately succumbing to his darker side due to his growing contempt for Thor.

In the film, Tom plays Loki as mischievous, but not completely evil (at least not yet). His actions though malicious in nature at times, are laced with an underlying desire for approval from those around him. In my opinion, this more deep-seeded emotional drive behind Loki’s actions allowed for the character to be much more relatable and intriguing to the audience.

Rounding out the primary characters featured in this film is actress Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) as Jane Foster. Some have criticized Natalie’s role as being merely the damsel-in-distress. Or that she portrayed the character as head-over-heels in love with a man she’s barely just met, rather than a mature woman with an infatuation. Personally, I disagree on both counts.

I felt that Natalie’s role was decently fleshed out, albeit not as much as some of the other main characters, but that’s where a sequel can come in handy. After all, this was really Thor’s movie, and it was pivotal to not only this film, but the impending “Avengers” that audiences really come to know and understand him (which seems obvious to me). So, in that regard, some side characters were left slightly short-handed in the story department, but I never felt she was there merely for the damsel role or to be just eye candy.

As for the relationship between Thor and Jane, I felt it was handled naturally as both characters showed they liked each other and that it was merely an infatuation at the moment. Neither played it anything beyond that, as some other critics have stated. As for how Jane acted around Thor; Natalie played her as clearly with a new crush, and it felt very believable. To see the relationship as anything else is reading too much into it at this point.

But I digress. I must mention that there is a plethora of supporting roles in this film, several of which merit a mention, but to do so for each of them would take quite some time. So, let me be succinct by saying that almost every single one of the supporting players delivers great performances.

Each of the supporting cast members brought something different to strengthen the creative process of moviemaking. Plus, in several instances some of them provided brief moments of much-needed levity to break up the intensity and drama unfolding within the story.

Those supporting cast members that are clearly worthy of mentioning due to their importance to the story and/or excellent work in the film are: Kat Dennings (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) as Jane’s college assistant Darcy (and a major source of the aforementioned levity), Ray Stevenson (“Punisher: War Zone”) as Volstagg, a member of Asgard’s esteemed Warriors Three, and Idris Elba (“The Losers”) as Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost Bridge.

Lastly, two pivotal roles in the film that don’t receive a ton of screen time, yet were incredibly vital, are the roles of Odin and SHIELD agent Coulson, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and Clark Gregg (“Iron Man 2”) respectively.

Sir Anthony Hopkins was the ideal choice to play Odin, Thor’s father and Lord of Asgard. Anthony always elevates any project he’s involved in due to his incredible acting prowess, his almost regal demeanor, and the respect that he clearly commands from those around him. For Odin, Anthony brought all of these qualities to bear, and crafted a performance that is worthy of the king of the god-like Asgardians.

Actor Clark Gregg, whose character Agent Coulson, has become a staple of Marvel’s feature films, once again steals almost every scene in which he appears. Clark’s portrayal of Coulson is so entertaining to watch because in one scene he will appear affable and potentially a push-over, but then he will establish himself as an authority figure with a quiet strength to back it up.

It is this dichotomy within Agent Coulson that has allowed this potentially one-dimensional character to have such staying power. Plus, he has grown, developed, and become even more interesting every time we meet him in these films.

Now, beyond having a terrific story, director and cast, the film also boasted some truly spectacular visual effects sequences. From Asgard’s majestic golden spires to the subtly multi-colored Bifrost Bridge (or Rainbow Bridge as it is sometimes referred) to the menacing Frost Giants, every supernatural or fantastical aspect of this film was rendered with such detail and precision that it literally blew away all of my expectations. Every frame looked as if it had been pulled directly from the comic book into amazing reality.

This movie featured Hollywood movie magic at its finest, and the quality on display played a significant role in the believability of the film. Bravo to all involved in the creation of the picture-perfect imagery that blended seamlessly with the live actors and physical sets and backgrounds.

So, if you haven’t figured it out by now, “Thor” is an incredibly entertaining blockbuster film and a terrific way to kick off the summer movie season. Even for those moviegoers that aren’t aware of the particulars for this character, I believe there is still plenty for you to enjoy in this film. This movie is definitely a must-see.

“Thor” is rated PG-13 for violence.