Is "Thor" the best Marvel Studios movie ever? Better than "Iron Man," which wowed crowds in 2008 on its way toward $585 million in worldwide box-office receipts? Better than "Iron Man 2" and "The Incredible Hulk"?
That's the word floating around the blogosphere and inside the MTV Newsroom, where everyone is marveling about what director Kenneth Branagh was able to accomplish with his comic book source material.
The movie could have easily become another "Masters of the Universe," a cheese-tastic example of how not to bring fantastical heroes to planet Earth. But Thor, no doubt, has avoided the fate of He-Man before him. To understand how Marvel and Branagh accomplished this impressive cinematic task, we must flash back into the recent past to see how the project came together. Luckily, that's exactly what we're able to do, since MTV News has been all over this project for years and can now present an indispensible cheat sheet: everything you need to know about "Thor":
Searching for the Gods
Marvel had been making plans for "Thor" since the '90s, but things started to come together in fall 2008, when Branagh entered into talks to helm the production. A few months later, he broke his silence and confirmed to us he'd be hopping into the director's chair, citing the appeal of working "on a story about one of the immortals, Gods, extraordinary beings, inter-dimensional creatures."
At that point, though, Branagh said it was too early to speculate about a potential cast. For Thor himself, we soon learned, Marvel was eyeing someone in his 20s who could be "physically powerful, very handsome, occasionally egotistical, petulant, and wild." Names like Daniel Craig and Kevin McKidd had been floated before for the hero from Asgard, but neither seemed to fit the bill, at least age-wise. Other actors like Alexander Skarsgård, Charlie Hunnam and Channing Tatum entered the conversation, but the job eventually went to Chris Hemsworth. Natalie Portman then signed on to play a scientist and Thor love interest, Tom Hiddleston became Thor's brother Loki, Anthony Hopkins became Thor's father Odin, and Stellan Skarsgård, Jaimie Alexander and Colm Feore joined in too.
Bringing Asgard to Earth
Filming kicked off in January of last year, and a week in, Branagh told us all was going well. "We have many miles to go and promises to keep, but so far, so good," he said. "Everybody's doing very good work and just a lot of it is so promising. Fingers crossed for everybody and everything. [Hemsworth] is a great guy."
Our first look at "Thor" came in April: Hemsworth in full Thor costume, his blond locks artfully falling in his face. "It's a pretty impressive costume, and I think anyone who put it on would look pretty cool," Hemsworth told us earlier. "I have a nice long, blond wig which they throw on every day."
Then came a pic of Hopkins as Odin. "It's a superhero movie, but with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in," he revealed to us. "It's a big, big, broad thing." More photos followed, until the first footage debuted at San Diego Comic-Con.
The public didn't get a chance to see official footage until December, when the first trailer popped up online, showing the God of Thunder as a skilled but arrogant warrior living in the faraway land of Asgard. But when Thor's reckless actions reawaken an ancient war, he's cast down to Earth and forced to live among mankind. As a threat from Asgard looms over our planet, Thor becomes the only one able to save both worlds from destruction.
Mighty Thor Arrives
A year after filming began, Hemsworth still hadn't seen a final cut. "I can't wait," he told us. "I've seen little bits and pieces through the process and little grabs. It looks amazing. I saw some special-effects stuff the other day that looks mind-blowing."
A Super Bowl commercial gave us a closer look at the action, followed by another full trailer in mid-February. Eventually, Hemsworth got to see the full film. "Being that close to something, it's often pretty hard to watch yourself, but the film in so many ways is so impressive that I was swept along with it like an audience member, and that's a pretty good sign," he told us.
He wasn't the only one impressed. Early reviews lauded the film for its faithful adaptation of the beloved comic books. Everything, it seems, is looking good both for a "Thor" sequel and "The Avengers," the superhero all-star flick that's already in production.
"It would be a lovely challenge and problem to have should we do a second one," Branagh said of directing "Thor 2." "We went through so many possibilities for how the story might go, that of course the prospect of that is very tantalizing and fascinating."
As for "Avengers," which will focus not only on Thor and Loki but characters like Hulk, Captain America and Hawkeye, everyone involved is ecstatic. "We've met sort of separately at various events and things, but yet to all sit down in the same room and do a read through...which I'm very excited about," Hemsworth told us before production began. "All of a sudden there's more people to sort of take some of the weight of it all, but also you want to do your bit and stand out, you know so it's a combination. But the excitement outweighs all of that. I'm a huge fan of these characters and these actors."
Check out everything we've got on "Thor."