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Image: Thor
Marvel Studios
Chris Hemsworth plays "Thor" in the new film, but the hero isn't as well-known as Superman or Batman. Here's a primer.
TODAY contributor
updated 4/26/2011 5:24:16 PM ET 2011-04-26T21:24:16

It’s hammer time.

“Thor,” the newest costumed do-gooder with designs on movie stardom, debuts in theaters May 6. Chris Hemsworth, he of the memorable cameo as Captain Kirk’s dad in “Star Trek,” stars as the title player in the latest Marvel movie spectacle. He’s a hero unlike any other that’s visited the multiplex during the superhero movie boom.

For one thing, he’s not a household name like Batman, Spider-Man, Superman or another of this summer’s superpowered movie stars, Captain America.

“Normally, I'd say it's a problem to not have that mainstream name recognition,” said Rick Marshall, editor of MTV’s Splash Page blog. “But the fact that the film is being packaged with 'Iron Man' and the rest of the Marvel movies helps make 'Thor' feel like one chapter in a bigger story.”

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Here's a look at who Thor is and how he matches up with other cineplex superheroes.

Video: Hemsworth brings down 'Thor's' hammer (on this page)

Where did he come from?
What also sets Thor apart from other super types is his origin story.

Superman may have a bit of a God complex, but Thor really is a god, heir to the throne of the cosmic realm of Asgard. Unlike Batman, Spider-Man or the Hulk, there is no life-changing event that makes Thor put on his cape and armor. His powers aren’t created in a lab, like Captain America’s Super-Soldier serum; he isn’t handed a magic ring by a dying alien as Hal Jordan is in “Green Lantern.”

“His powers don't come from science or some sort of traumatic experience,” said Marshall. “[Thor] is a magical being, not a mutant or an alien or a guy with lots of guns or gadgets.”

Story: 'Thor' rumbles, but never quite roars

“The character is already a god when we meet him,” notes film and television producer F.J. DeSanto. “A very cocky god, mind you, but one with very special powers that he is born with but doesn’t necessarily have the maturity to use properly.”

A cocky Thor's rash actions have his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) at his wit’s end. To teach his spoiled son a lesson in humility, Odin exiles Thor to Earth to live among mere mortals.

“Thor is really no different than the average rebellious teenager with daddy issues,” according to DeSanto. “His being banished to Earth is no different than a parent sending their kid off to military school.”
Origin story grade: B

Mighty Mjolnir
Tony Stark has his armor, Batman his utility belt, Green Lantern his magic ring, Captain America his shield. Thor? He has an enchanted hammer that allows him to control thunder and lightning. The guy can make it rain whenever and wherever he wants.

What other superhero has a weapon cool enough to warrant its own name — Mjolnir (pronounced Myol-neer)?

But Thor isn’t beholden to his hammer to save the day. He’s a gifted warrior and the strongest dude in the Marvel Universe, although the Hulk could give him a run for his money on a really angry day.
Weapon grade: A+

Video: 'Thor' could conquer the universe (on this page)

He is who he is
Despite the fact that alter egos, be it playboy Bruce Wayne, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent or test pilot Hal Jordan, are staples of the superhero genre, “Thor” is skipping the "hero in disguise" shtick.

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When you’re a card-carrying immortal, a secret identity seems rather silly, doesn’t it?

Besides, it’s kind of hard to disguise yourself when you have a physique straight out of the WWE and hair like an Allman Brother.
Identity grade: C

Comrades in arms
Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and Speedy (don’t ask), Iron Man and Rhodey; superheroes love sidekicks.

Story: Up, up, and away! It's the summer of superheroes

Thor’s band of brothers on Asgard are the Warriors Three: Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim and Volstagg the Valiant. Think of the Three Musketeers and you get a good idea of the makeup of this power trio. Ray Stevenson, who put on a fat suit to portray the portly Volstagg, played the brutal but entertaining Titus Pullo on HBO's short-runned series "Rome." He also stars in the latest version of the ‘Musketeers’ legend, due out in October.

The Warriors Three will soon have competition for Thor’s attention. The Thunder God will be a key player in next summer’s big superhero onscreen convention “The Avengers.”
Comrades grade: B+

She blinded me with science
Like another superpowered alien with a red cape, Thor is a stranger in a strange land. And like Superman, the Son of Odin meets a woman who helps him find his way in his new world.

Jane Foster (newly-minted Oscar winner Natalie Portman) is the scientist who discovers Thor in the desert after his father sent him packing. As sure as the sun is bright, expect her to need to be rescued by Thor at some point in the film.

Video: Thor: God of lame (on this page)

But Foster isn’t just a damsel in distress. She’s the latest in a string of strong-willed superhero love interests who happen to have a fondness for formulas. The Hulk’s crush, Betty Ross, is another lab rat. So was Sue Richards in the “Fantastic Four” films. There’s something about a lab coat…
Love interest grade: B-

Oh brother
The best superhero films have villains as memorable as the heroes. Think of the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” or Doc Octopus in “Spider-Man 2” and Magneto in the “X-Men” trilogy. Thor has himself a doozy: His own brother.

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to rule Asgard and he’s perfectly happy to lie, cheat and scheme his way to the throne, blood ties be damned. Loki has tons of issues, most of them being of the "father always liked you best" variety, and the combination of rage, jealousy and maliciousness makes him a threat not just to Thor but to Asgard and Earth.

In other words, an opponent worthy of the God of Thunder.
Villain grade: A

Will all of that help “Thor” break through the crowd of capes in theaters this summer? It can’t hurt.

“A few years ago, “Iron Man” wasn’t a known commodity outside of the comics world, either,” said DeSanto. “Don’t discount people who are interested or knowledgeable in Norse mythology. There’s some value there. Of course, it would really help [Marvel’s cause] if the movie is good."

Michael Avila, who lives in New York, is a regular contributor to TODAY.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Watch the 'Thor' trailer

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Photos: May movies

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  1. 'Thor '

    Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman

    Director: Kenneth Branagh

    Scheduled release date: May 6

    The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders. () Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Jumping the Broom'

    Stars: Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Angela Bassett

    Director: Salim Akil

    Scheduled release date: May 6

    Two very different families converge on Martha's Vineyard one weekend for a wedding. (Screen Gems) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Something Borrowed'

    Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson and Colin Egglesfield

    Director: Luke Greenfield

    Scheduled release date: May 6

    Friendships are tested and secrets come to the surface when terminally single Rachel falls for Dex, her best friend Darcy's fiancé. (David Lee / Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'Bridesmaids'

    Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne

    Director: Paul Feig

    Scheduled release date: May 13

    A comedy centered on two women battling to plan their friend's wedding party. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'Priest'

    Stars: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet and Maggie Q

    Director: Scott Charles Stewart

    Scheduled release date: May 13

    A priest disobeys church law to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece. (Screen Gems) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

    Stars: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane

    Director: Rob Marshall

    Scheduled release date: May 20

    Jack Sparrow and Barbossa embark on a quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, only to discover that Blackbeard and his daughter are after it too. (Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. "The Hangover 2"

    Stars: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms

    Director: Todd Phillips

    Scheduled release date: May 27

    Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug travel to Bangkok for Stu's wedding. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

    Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan

    Director: Jennifer Yuh

    Scheduled release date: May 27

    Po joins forces with a group of new kung-fu masters to take on an old enemy with a deadly new weapon. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Tree of Life'

    Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

    Director: Terrence Malick

    Scheduled release date: May 27

    The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence. (Fox Searchlight) Back to slideshow navigation
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