By Michael Phillips
5:40 PM EST, November 6, 2013
If anyone ever asks you what "Thor: The Dark World" has in common with "Blondie Goes Latin" and "Bomba and the Jungle Girl," here's the answer: It's the eighth movie in its franchise.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as "Thor's" particular franchise is known, encompasses the new adventures of Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America and so on, worth billions around the world. (Rumor has it the next all-star "Avengers" movie will be two hours of actors in costume, counting their money.)
So how's this "Thor" sequel? Same old threats of galaxy annihilation spiced with fairly entertaining fish-out-of-water jokes. My favorite: Encountering a London flat for the first time in his travels, Chris Hemsworth's Thor comes in the door and hangs his snazzy flying killer hammer from its leather loop on one of the coat hooks.
This is the second outing for Thor and his mighty hammer, though honestly, what chance do they have against Tom Hiddleston as Odin's other, less trustworthy son, Loki? The chief adversary from the first "Thor" (which I liked, despite its squareness) and the hugely popular mash-up "The Avengers" has a way of making valor and honor look foolish. Clearly director Alan Taylor, whose previous work has mostly been in prestige series television (lately, "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire"), likes this character best, because he snivels most.
Now for some very important plot points. In "Thor 2," Malekith, the leader of the dark elves of Svartalfheim, comes out of a long hibernation ready to rumble. Their secret weapon is the aether, pronounced "ee-ther," an "ancient force of infinite destruction," as Anthony Hopkins' Odin describes it, sounding like he's saying the words "blah blah blah" instead.
When some of the aether enters the bloodstream of astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman again), things get sticky. At the end of "Thor 1," Thor took off back to Asgard, leaving Jane bereft. "Thor 2" ponders the challenges of intergalactic dating, and the film has its scrambled moments where one beat of an action sequence begins on Earth, and then two seconds later, a second beat is completed at the other end of the tunnel. After a while, anything's possible, and little is compelling, even though it's on Asgard where Jane meets Thor's folks.
Other scenes take place on Vanaheim, which is like Anaheim without Disneyland.
Taylor handles the battle sequences dutifully and without much visual dynamism. (If you go to "Thor 2," don't bother with the 3-D edition. Two's enough.) By now, in this Marvel world, we've seen everything twice, and it's hard to impress audiences with something new. But we don't go to "Thor 2" or any of these films, really, for something new.
We go because we saw the other ones. The most satisfying films of the eight so far — the first "Iron Man" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" — did the job with a lighter hand and a less pummeling attack.
The occasional charms of "Thor 2" are all about the way Kat Dennings (back as Jane's intern) deadpans her way through another Armageddon, or Hopkins' stunning final-t consonant enunciation when he bites off the end of the word "birthright." Or Hiddleston's malevolent grin, the mocking face of sibling rivalry. At times the film appears to have been directed by the Hulk, in a snit. But amid the digital mayhem and smashed columns, plenty of fine actors in "Thor 2" do what they can.
'Thor: The Dark World'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence; some suggestive content
Running time: 2 hours
Playing: In general release
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