"Thor: The Dark World" is the eighth movie in its particular franchise. So if anyone asks you what it has in common with "Blondie Goes Latin" and "Bomba and the Jungle Girl" you'll know the answer.
The franchise at hand goes by the name of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, encompassing 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? It's fairly entertaining. Same old threats of galaxy annihilation, spiced with fish-out-of-water jokes. My favorite here: 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 mighty Thor and his mighty hammer, though honestly, what chance have they against Tom Hiddleston as Odin's other, less trustworthy son, Loki? The chief adversary from the first "Thor" (which I liked, in spite of 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 classy 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 once 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, the 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 takes 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 again 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. Plenty of fine actors do what they can here amid the digital mayhem and smashed columns. At times the film appears to have been directed by The Hulk, in a snit.
"Thor: The Dark World" - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content)
Running time: 2:00
Opens: Thursday evening