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Make a date with Paramount’s god of thunder for the year’s most exciting movie, Marvel Studio’s Thor, opening this Friday. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this mythological tale of a king’s son on a faraway planet is nearly flawless. Packed with action, humor, and most of all a compelling plot progression, Thor offers strong characters, a city of gold, and classic themes of betrayal, loyalty, and earning one’s crowning achievement.

From Norway to New Mexico, the story of Thor mixes myth, narration, and war, as Anthony Hopkins’ king conquers demonic frost giants and, with his wife (Rene Russo), raises two sons, one of whom will become king, in a place called Asgard. Fantasy meets squarely with reality, as the boy named Thor becomes a reckless warrior (Chris Hemsworth) while brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) grows into a sober voice of reason. When Thor charges with his band of merry mates into the heart of the enemy’s territory after an incursion by frost giants, the battle-weary king is not pleased. He punishes Thor by making him mortal and sending him to earth.

Wouldn’t you know Thor, still speaking with bravado yet missing his fabulous red cape, is deposited in the Land of Enchantment and alien abduction claims, New Mexico, where an intrepid scientist (Natalie Portman) and her own smaller and less than merry band of mates (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) study strange atmospheric effects that coincide with Thor’s arrival. Here, Scandinavian Skarsgard and geek girl Dennings chime in on the chiseled hunk that fell from the sky while things back on the home planet take a darker turn. With Patrick Doyle’s evocative score, Branagh’s aerial camera angles, and sincere performances by the cast, all of whom are in top form, Thor kicks, pounds and thunders his way toward truth, justice and the American way (even if Superman doesn’t).

Portman’s self-made character joins the blond avenger as she sizes him up, taking on the United States government, which functions with the moral compass of the KGB, seizing private property and accomplishing absolutely nothing, just like the TSA. Watching Thor is like settling in for a good, old-fashioned serial episode, with smaller characters such as a guardian played by Idris Elba becoming activated in a plot to save two worlds, with a union of fact and imagination very much at stake, which one anticipates as the journey climaxes with a conflict between a self-hating monster and a thunderous god forged by becoming what amounts to a self-interested man.

If it’s escape from reality you seek, Marvel’s Thor is not your kind of movie. It is a better deal than that, indulging in a sense of hero worship, with an intelligent woman at Thor’s side, blending in a classic contest of good versus evil, and keeping it all marvelously real.