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Video: Watch the 'Thor' trailer

updated 5/3/2011 6:56:07 PM ET 2011-05-03T22:56:07

The Norse gods are off to a decent, though not divine, start in "Thor," the latest movie in Marvel Comics' big-screen expansion of its superhero pantheon.

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Held to a more brisk running time than some superhero epics that swell to Elizabethan stage proportions, "Thor" nevertheless manages to cram in a lot of Shakespearean intrigue.

Director Kenneth Branagh, whose big-screen Shakespeare adaptations include "Hamlet" and "Henry V," pits father against son and brother against brother, with loads of palatial pride, envy, rivalry and resentment driving the action.

The human part of the equation often is where "Thor" comes up short, as in the puny humans of whom the god, played by statuesque Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, supposedly becomes so fond.

Story: How does 'Thor' stack up against other heroes?

Fresh off her Academy Award win for "Black Swan," Natalie Portman as Thor's mortal love interest is a surprisingly insubstantial presence. We have to be told by a colleague that Portman's Jane Foster is a "master physicist," but there's little in the actress' demeanor to make you believe it.

Thor is the god who fell to Earth, but why he wants to stay among these little Earthlings never feels genuine, given the far cooler place he calls home.

theGrio: Hollywood heroes come in all colors

That place is Asgard, the dwelling of superpowered beings who, in Marvel's reworking of mythology, became objects of worship among the ancient Norsemen.

Hemsworth's Thor is in line to inherit the throne from his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), over his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But after Thor defies his dad and leads a mission of revenge against old enemies on the ice planet Jotunheim, Odin strips his cocky son of his power and his mighty hammer, banishing him to Earth to learn some humility.

In the New Mexico desert, Thor falls in with scientist Jane, her mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) and their wisecracking assistant (Kat Dennings, who keeps the movie lively with her comic timing and delivery).

Video: Hemsworth walks red carpet for 'Thor' (on this page)

The Asgard sets are impressive, but while the celestial setting of this heavenly dominion gleams, it often looks fake, even cartoonish. "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings" have presented much better fantasy lands.

The action sequences also are muddled at times, though an armored guy smashing things with a giant hammer certainly is a fresh take on superhero violence.

The plot — credited to three screenwriters and two story developers, among them Marvel Comics scribe J. Michael Straczynski — is a bit unfocused, since it not only has to relate Thor's journey but also help set up next year's superhero ensemble tale "The Avengers."

That film will team Thor with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo's Incredible Hulk, Chris Evans' Captain America and other Marvel heroes.

The bridge in "Thor" is Clark Gregg, reprising his "Iron Man" role as Agent Coulson, an operative for SHIELD, the outfit that assembles the superhero dream team (stick through the "Thor" end-credits for a teaser featuring a prominent member of "The Avengers" cast).

Video: Thor: God of lame (on this page)

While Jane, Coulson and the other humans gradually learn who Thor is and what he's capable of, battles rage on among the Asgardians (Ray Stevenson as one of Thor's raucous comrades and Idris Elba as the realm's vigilant gatekeeper are standouts) and the frost giants of Jotunheim (with Colm Feore as their coolly menacing leader).

It's a lot to pack into one movie, particularly when the battle expands to Earth, where an Asgard weapon is unleashed. The story flits fickly back and forth, but Hemsworth has true star power, a regal presence that helps keep the disparate elements stitched together.

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He's also quite funny, tossing off imperious quips with charm and roguish slyness. And there are beefcake moments where his rippling musculature puts the bare-chested wolf pack of the "Twilight" flicks to shame.

Born to superhuman power, Thor can naturally do things that Downey's guy in a metal suit or Evans' soldier on super-steroids could only dream of. So it'll be interesting to see how Marvel overseers and "Avengers" director Joss Whedon handle the division of labor among the superhero squad.

Thor certainly does humble down to a more collegial attitude in his debut run, but "The Avengers" should make for some engaging alpha-male, or alpha-Marvel, dynamics.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Shirtless studs

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  1. Smoothly chiseled

    For "Elysium," Matt Damon stripped the hair from his head and the shirt from his chest, telling press he spent four hours a day working out to get that six-pack. (Columbia Pictures-Sony) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Five alarm

    Taylor Kinney creates a hot environment every time he takes off his shirt while playing Kelly Severide on NBC's "Chicago Fire." (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. First place

    Rob Wilson of Boston was chosen via online competition to be the first male model on "The Price is Right"; he'll begin work on the show in October. (CBS via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tat's a fact

    Flo Rida busted out his singing skills and his other assets on TODAY in July 2012. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Shirtless for America

    Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, who starts off 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" as a puny weakling declared 4-F by the army. A dose of Super Soldier serum fixes him right up. (Marvel Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Crazy!

    Ryan Gosling bares his chest in 2011's "Crazy, Stupid Love," playing a friend who teaches Steve Carell's character how to date after divorce. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Conan the Pec-tarian

    Jason Momoa, who plays Dothraki horselord Khal Drogo in HBO's "Game of Thrones" series, stars in the 2011 remake of "Conan the Barbarian." Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role back in 1982, but this version is in 3D. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Godlike muscles

    Chris Hemsworth plays Norse god sent to Earth as a superhero in 2011's "Thor." Perhaps he's just not used to earth clothing. () Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Taking on the Predators

    Adrien Brody isn't the first name that comes to mind when you think of hulky actors, but the Oscar-winner bulked up to play a mercenary in "Predators." Taking a tip from Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original film, he smeared his body with mud to confuse the Predators' heat vision. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Prince of Purr-sia

    In 2010's "Prince of Persia," Jake Gyllenhaal's toned figure brought the heat to the desert. (Walt Disney Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. More than a pretty Face

    To play Templeton "Faceman" Peck, Bradley Cooper brought out his A game for 2010's "A-Team." (Doug Curran / 20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Right on the Mark

    Holbrooke, played by Mark Wahlberg, was happily willing to give Tina Fey and Steve Carell the shirt off his back in 2010's "Date Night." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Hunky like the wolf

    In "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," released in 2009, Taylor Lautner's ripped pecs made werewolf Jacob a force to reckon with. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Traveling with their pack

    Lautner wasn't the only shirtless stud in Forks, Wash. Werewolves Paul, Embry and Sam, played by Alex Meraz, Kiowa Gordon and Chaske Spencer, showed off their washboard abs in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Love at first bite

    Vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) wasn't shirtless as often as Jacob and the wolf pack in "New Moon," but he did offer up an occasional glimpse of his sparkly skin. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Great Scot!

    Gerard Butler almost put audiences in cardiac arrest with his sculpted torso in "Law Abiding Citizen" in 2009. (Overture Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. On closer inspection

    Audiences didn't mind investigating the famed detective's anatomy when Robert Downey Jr. played the lead in 2009's "Sherlock Homes." (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Putting the man in adamantium

    With Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the claws weren't the only thing that audiences were looking forward to seeing in 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Golden boy

    Thanks to Matthew McConaughey's six pack, his character Ben "Finn" Finnegan in 2008's "Fool's Gold" made audiences rush in. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Double-oh-heaven

    Daniel Craig as James Bond in 2006's "Casino Royale" left audience members shaken and stirred. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A body to die for

    He may have been a scumbag, but it was easy to see why the ladies fell for John Tucker, played by Jesse Metcalfe, in 2006's, "John Tucker Must Die." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ain't nothing but a G-string

    In 2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," viewers saw a lot of Sacha Baron Cohen's character Borat -- perhaps too much. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Nacho, nacho man

    Jack Black showed his stuff as Nacho, a priest-turned-wrestler, in 2006's "Nacho Libre." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Scared shirtless

    Not even the paranormal stopped Ryan Reynolds from walking around half-naked as haunted homeowner George Lutz in "The Amityville Horror," released in 2005. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Quite a thrilla

    Will Smith was "ab"-solutely fabulous when he played legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in 2001's "Ali." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Killer body

    Cold-blooded murderer Patrick Bateman, portrayed by Christian Bale in 2000's "American Psycho," was a fan of staying tan. (Lion's Gate Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. No shoes? No shirt? No problem!

    As Tyler Durden, Brad Pitt made having a terrific build the first rule of 1999's "Fight Club." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shirts or skins?

    Denzel Washington's muscular biceps played with hearts when he portrayed Jake Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game," released in 1998. (Buena Vista Pictures ) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Damme he's fine

    Jean-Claude Van Damme was indeed the Muscles from Brussels in "No Retreat, No Surrender (aka Karate Tiger)" in 1986. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Ripped Republican

    Bodybuilding paid off for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played the lead in "Conan the Destroyer," released in 1984. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Leaving us breathless

    Richard Gere as Michel played a thief who stole hearts with his terrific body in 1983's "Breathless." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. The Italian stallion

    Sylvester Stallone caught more than the eye of the tiger in as the never-say-die boxer in "Rocky III," released in 1976. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Hunk o' Love

    After seeing the King's physique in 1963's "Fun in Acapulco," Elvis Presley fans were even more smitten with their man. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. As the Romans do

    Marlon Brando's barely-there costume as Mark Antony in 1953's "Julius Caesar" made viewers want to go on a Roman holiday. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Wild thing

    Audience members heard the call of the wild watching Johnny Weissmuller in 1932's "Tarzan." (Everett Collection ) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Matt Damon
    Columbia Pictures-Sony
    Above: Slideshow (35) Hollywood’s shirtless studs
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