"We've never seen them all come together like this," said Chris Hemsworth, the Australian actor who plays Thor in the adaptation of the Marvel Comics title, which kicks off the summer blockbuster season May 6.
The heroes Thor and Captain America (whose movie opens July 22) are, in the larger Marvel universe, members of a supercombo of superheroes, the Avengers. That's along with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, both of whom already have been taken to the big screen.
Marvel Studios, the film arm of the comic-book publisher, is building toward a megamovie for the summer of 2012, "The Avengers," that will feature all four heroes as well as some other Marvel characters working together against a common threat to the Earth.
Marvel's archrival DC Comics isn't standing idle. "Green Lantern" is considered a first step toward an effort, long talked about but never done until now, to make a "Justice League of America" movie sometime in 2013. The JLA, as comic-book aficionados call it, is DC's collection of do-gooders: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and other characters rotating into the lineup.
"The team books are always fun, because you get them into different situations," said Dave Landa, owner of Dr. Volts Comic Connection, a Salt Lake City comic-book store.
Getting a group of disparate heroes together is "really tough to do in a 32-page comic," said Mimi Cruz, manager of Night Flight Comics of Salt Lake City, because too many backstories have to be explained before getting on with the plot.
The actors who play these characters each have to bring something to the table.
Chris Evans, who portrays Captain America, said the role was intimidating. "If you win, you win big. If you lose, you lose big."
At first, Evans turned down the role of Steve Rogers, a 98-pound weakling who's transformed into a muscular hero during World War II. After much thought, the actor decided "you end up regretting the things you don't do more than the things you do," Evans said in a phone interview.
One source of anxiety for Evans: the inevitable press interviews, something he encountered when playing The Human Torch, another Marvel character, in two "Fantastic Four" films. "This time, there won't be four of us onstage, when they just want to talk to Jessica Alba," Evans joked.
Hemsworth's best-known role before Thor was as James T. Kirk's father in 2009's "Star Trek" reboot. For him, playing the thunder god who is exiled to Earth for his arrogance by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) meant researching both the comic book and Norse mythology.
"The story and the costumes and the sets inform us that these are gods," Hemsworth said. "When you're playing the king, the other actors inform the audience. It's how they act around you. That made me stop thinking about it, that I'm playing a god. I just looked it as a father and a son."
"Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" set the table for "The Avengers," which will be directed by Joss Whedon (the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). That movie will feature characters from past films Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (with Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton), S.H.I.E.L.D. founder Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The movie will also spotlight some Marvel characters who haven't seen screen time yet, such as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, from "How I Met Your Mother").
Whether an "Avengers" movie will work depends on the meshing of personalities, said Night Flight's Cruz. Not the superheroes' personalities, but those of the filmmakers.
"How much can they put aside their own egos to tell the story?" Cruz wondered. "The strength of the writer is really the key, how he develops or redevelops the character."
For the actors, being part of a multilayered franchise like "The Avengers" which starts shooting just after Hemsworth finishes publicity duties for "Thor" in mid-May has a major perk: job security, as they are under contract for several movies.
"It's good to know I've got some work lined up," Hemsworth said.
Evans agreed: "A working actor is a happy actor."