Are you confused by all those crazy space vikings running around in the Thor preview? Don't know what a Mjolnir is? Well, put on some Ride the Lightning, because here's a crash course in all people, places, and things Asgardian.
First off, here's the latest trailer (in case you haven't seen it).
Also, I've omitted certain facets of these characters' biographies, as they could be considered spoilers for the film.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
Marvel's Thor is based on the thunder god from Norse mythology (and the namesake of the fifth day of the week) and was created by writer Stan "The Man" Lee, Stan's brother Larry Lieber, and illustrator Jack Kirby. The hero debuted in 1962's Journey into Mystery #83. Prior to Thor, Journey Into Mystery focused on monsters with such mellifluous names as Gruto, Spragg, Shagg, Gomdulla, Zog, Bombu, and Rro.
After his first appearance, Thor stories monopolized Journey Into Mystery. Was this a good thing? It's hard to say. In another reality, audiences are enjoying a $150 million Rro summer tent-pole film starring Gilbert Gottfried. Are we really living in the best of worlds?
In Marvel continuity, Odin (Thor's father) tires of his son's hubris, strips him of his mystical hammer Mjolnir, and exiles him to Earth to learn some manners. Odin transforms Thor into Dr. Donald Blake, a mortal with an injured leg that requires him to walk with a cane.
But Odin the All-Father is forgiving and cosmically compels his son toward redemption. While vacationing in Norway, Blake accidentally runs into the Stone Men of Saturn (don't ask). Blake takes shelter in a nearby cave, discovers Mjolnir hidden in the form of an enchanted stick, and smacks the Stone Men into gravel.
Thor would go on to have many blond adventures. He was a founding member of Marvel Comics' premiere superteam The Avengers, helped saved the universe oodles of times, and even convinced Odin to remove the enchantment that transforms him into Donald Blake. For a while — thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in the movies) — he experimented with a construction worker alter ego, Sigur Jarlson. But most of the time, Thor rolls as plain ol' Thor.
Thor screenwriter Ashley Edward Miller recently told us that he and co-writer Zack Stentz drew inspiration from Walter Simonson's seminal 1980s run on The Mighty Thor and Mark Millar's grittier depiction of the hero in The Ultimates.
FUN FACT: Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live is my favorite Thor.
Thor hails from Asgard, a world that is connected to Midgard (a.k.a. Earth) by the Bifröst Bridge. The Bifröst Bridge — also known as "the Rainbow Bridge," as it resembles the final stage of Super Mario Kart — is guarded by the Asgardian warrior Heimdall (more on him in a moment). Asgard and Midgard are but two of the nine worlds within the greater realm known as Asgard (think New York, New York). Here's a map, and you can check out more wacky Asgardian cartography here.
The Asgardian gods are a superhuman humanoid race who were worshipped by the vikings. They're not immortal but live for an extremely long time. Although you may be familiar with the Æsir (a.k.a. the Asgardian pantheon of gods that includes Odin and Thor), know that plenty of Asgardians are boring faceless nobodies. Oodles of other races live in Asgard, including dwarves, frost giants (those nasty blue fellows in the above trailer), fire demons, and elves (both dark and light).
Mjolnir (pronounced roughly "Myawlneer") is Thor's mystical hammer which is made of an Asgardian metal known as Uru. Only those deemed worthy by Odin's exacting standards can lift the hammer. Everyday slobs like you and me can't toss it around, but Captain America and Superman can.
Mjolnir is an indestructible Swiss Army knife of powers. It has the power to summon lightning, manipulate weather, return to Thor like a boomerang, create magic portals, and rescue comic writers when they write themselves into corners.
Odin (Anthony Hopkins)
Odin is the father of Thor and Loki and the ruler of all Asgardians. He wields an unimaginable cosmic power known as the Odinforce but (like you and me) must recharge with a siesta from time to time. Only he calls his naps the Odinsleep. It's all very narcissistic.
Like Thor, Odin has magic weapons. He carries Gungnir the enchanted spear and the scepter Thrudstok. Surprisingly, they are not named "Odinspear" and "Odinscepter."
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Loki is Thor's brother and the God of Mischief. Loki is normally ill-behaved but will occasionally fight alongside Thor. But even when he appears to be on the side of angels, you can trust that it's only to advance his own diabolical agenda.
Loki is a master of sorcery and illusion. For example, Loki once inhabited the body of Thor's on-again, off-again girlfriend Sif. That was an awkward experience for everyone. His schemes also resulted in the formation of the Avengers.
Jane Foster (Natalie Portman)
In the comic books, Jane Foster was a nurse who worked with Dr. Donald Blake. She had the hots for both Blake and Thor, which led to your typical superheroic secret love shenanigans. Odin was irked that Thor had fallen in love with a mortal and (by means of some Odinforce-brand brainwashing) eventually broke off their romance. In the film, Jane's had a career change — she's an astrophysicist.
Frigga (Rene Russo)
Frigga is an Æsir, Odin's wife, and Thor's stepmother. This isn't a major plot detail, but Thor's birth mother is Gaea, the anthropological life essence of Earth. That's right, Odin's so butch he impregnated a planet.
Sif (Jaimie Alexander)
Sif is one of Asgard's finest warriors, Thor's adventuring companion, and sometimes his girlfriend. In the comics, Sif has the power to teleport between Midgard and Asgard.
Heimdall (Idris Elba)
Heimdall is the ever-vigilant Asgardian warrior who guards the entrance to Asgard. From his sentry duty on the Bifröst Bridge, he can see and hear anywhere in the nine worlds, his senses so powerful they give him borderline omniscience. Heimdall also possesses Gjallerhorn, a warning horn so stentorian Thor can hear it on Midgard. White supremacists (and presumably Omar Little fans) were upset that Elba was cast as a cosmic trombone player who lives on a rainbow.
The Warriors Three
Unlike the other Asgardians we've mentioned, there's no analogue for the Warriors Three in Norse mythology. They're a purely comic book creation and adventuring buddies of Thor. Their roster consists of Fandral the Dashing (Joshua Dallas), Hogun the Grim (Tadanobu Asano), and Volstagg the Voluminous (Ray Stevenson). Volstagg's particularly beloved by comic fans, as he's a jolly, mead-swilling dude who solves his problems by sitting on them.
The Destroyer is also a creation from comics continuity. It's a nigh unstoppable enchanted suit of armor that was built by Odin. Inanimate on its own, it's deadly in action, shooting flames and crushing skulls with aplomb.