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Thor-AvengersIts hammer time at the movies this weekend. Thor, the sledgehammer superhero feels like an amuse-bouche for the big Avengers movie coming up next year, but with its rippling muscles, crazy mythology and giant Frost monsters, it’s still a bit of fun. Not “Iron Man” fun, but more of a good time than you’d imagine a superhero movie directed by Kenneth Branagh might be.

Based on the Marvel comic book, the action in “Thor” really begins with our hero about to be named king by his father (Anthony Hopkins). Seconds before daddy says the words, “You are king,” Frost Giants from an enemy realm interrupt the ceremony. Furious that his big day has been marred Thor (Chris Hemsworth) disobeys his father and skips realms to confront the invaders. The punishment for his reckless, arrogant behavior is banishment to Earth and the arms of meteorologist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), which isn’t so bad, but he misses his home planet.

Branagh brings a Shakespearean feel to the story, blending all the bard’s universal themes—love, deception, death and daddy issues—with the stuff of superhero movies. Classing up the joint a little bit is Anthony Hopkins, although the way he chews the scenery it’s like he hasn’t eaten in a month.

Unlike its star, however, the incredibly buff Chris Hemsworth, the movie is a bit soft in the middle. It starts off well, slows to a crawl midway, but as soon as Thor Gets His Groove back… er… Gets His Hammer Back the movie gets back on track.

The big problem here is the love story. Natalie Portman may be the hottest women in Hollywood right now, but the pirouettes that propelled her to Oscar glory this year are noticeably missing here. I think she’s miscast, a feeling reinforced by the presence of Kat Dennings in a throwaway role that she turns into a charismatic supporting part on the strength of her quirky comic timing. This movie would have more zip in the deadly mid section if she was the lead.

As for Hemsworth, initially I didn’t know if he was going to cut it with his oh-so-serious line delivery, but later, when he’s on earth he seems to be having fun as “the Mighty Thor” slow to realize he’s lost his powers. The dramatic delivery brings a laugh when he goes into a pet store demanding to buy a horse so he can continue his journey. The movie actually is a lot funnier than I thought it would be, which, for a movie featuring costumes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Chippendale’s show is saying something.

“Thor” is a good popcorn movie, but be warned, it’s thunderously loud. Louder than Thor’s snores after a Busgrogg binge. Take earplugs.

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