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WIELDING THE ULTIMATE POWER TOOL

The first real summer blockbuster, Thor is your typical Marvel Comics departure from reality, capes and all. The story begins when the hot-tempered and headstrong Thor (Chris Hemsworth) angers his powerful papa, the wise king Odin (played by the wiser Anthony Hopkins), ruler of the mythical realm of Asgard. Thor's rash actions nearly start a war between the gods of Asgard and their mortal enemies, the frost giants, blue-skinned, red-eyed creepies who look like a mix of Mr. Freeze and the Green Goblin. As punishment, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth - specifically to New Mexico, where he meets Jane (Natalie Portman), an enthusiastic astrophysicist who is equally attracted to Thor's otherworldly origins and his otherworldly good looks. The two bond as Thor tries to retrieve his hammer (which is embedded in the desert until he proves worthy of its powers) and return to Asgard to prevent his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from taking desperate measures to win their father's love. The family drama runs deep; the fight scenes are frequent, and things take a long time to happen very quickly.

Thor has its fair share of issues. The plot is scattered and doesn't progress very smoothly, stumbling at a few key points. Earth's involvement in the story seems to be solely for the purpose of finding a place for Portman in the film, since the fates of those in New Mexico only briefly cross paths with the Asgardians, and their encounter is of little consequence. Considering what today's PG-13 ratings allow, Thor lacks edginess; I'm not saying sex and bloody violence are a must for every movie, but a little more daring wouldn't hurt. Director Kenneth Branagh (perhaps best-known by teens as Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter films) plays it safe, and the MPAA probably went above PG for commercial reasons.

Still, Thorhas lots of good stuff going on. Despite the flaws, the plot offers some unexpected twists, and a decent message. There are also many laughs to be had. Thor's confusion when he lands on Earth is hilarious: the god of thunder gets an ironic shock from a taser. The fight scenes may be bloodless, but there's no denying that Thor in full force is a total bada--, mostly thanks to his hammer, which is indestructible and also allows him to fly. And then there's Portman, appealing as ever, turning even her one-dimensional role into something worth watching. Hemsworth is pretty appealing himself, whether he's in tough-guy mode as a god or just being funny as a human. They match each other cute smile for cute smile.

Thor is no gem, but as the kickoff to the summer movie season, it doesn't have to be. It may not be anything special, but Thor is a fun spin on hero flicks and does exactly what it's supposed to: entertain you for two hours.

Mina Asayesh-Brown is a junior at St. Petersburg High.

* * *

Thor

Grade: ***

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 115 min.

* * *

REVIEW KEY

***** Can you marry a thing that's not a person?

**** Silver medals are still cool.

*** Nobody's perfect.

** Its mom still loves it.

* No. Just, no.

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