“Thor” sequel another hard-hitter

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Everyone's favorite alien thunder-god with a hammer is at it again in Thor: The Dark World, the followup to Marvel's smash hits The Avengers and Thor. The plot, which admittedly seems almost self-parodical at this point in the genre, involves the hero (Chris Hemsworth) fighting to prevent an incursion by the nefarious Dark Elves, who want to use a cosmic substance called the Aether to plunge the universe into darkness. But this film has a few tricks up its sleeve, and it quickly establishes itself as a creative, captivating, and even humorous adventure.

The fate of the universe resting on the shoulders of a cape-wearing warrior is a given; it's as expected as the gunfight in the cowboy flick or the body count of the modern horror movie. This sequel is refreshing, however, in that it does not explore the same things the previous entry did. It's more about the backstory and politics of Asgard this time, rather than the first film's more simplistic "fish out of water" theme. That's probably owed to director Alan Taylor's touch; he's done episodes of Game of Thrones, so this isn't his first rodeo when it comes to epic fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, there's a unique hybridization going on here: a cool blend of Scandinavian mythos and sci-fi (in keeping with Marvel's "realistic" take on its superhero movies). The result is a mixture of Lord of the Rings-esque sword-and-sorcery, galactic warships, and the Dark Elves, or dokkalfar (time to brush up on that Norse mythology), which are at least more interesting than any alien races introduced in the recent Star Trek films. It's certainly an eclectic concoction, but it's good.

The character interaction is excellent when it works, but it sometimes doesn't. The chemistry, for example, between Thor and human Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is stiff and utilitarian at best; they're definitely no Superman and Lois Lane. The usually-talented Portman oddly seems to play things pretty flat this time. Her friend and intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), is much better, filling every awkward silence with a well-earned one-liner.

Moreover, any tension that could be brewing between Thor, Jane, and goddess Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is all but truncated. And I only criticize this because we're teased with it at the film's beginning, and then it never goes anywhere. Sif, by the way, is an interesting character and fan favorite, and is criminally underused in this film.

Semi-antagonist Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is, as last time, the story's secret weapon. His silver tongue, questionable allegiance, and surprisingly weighty acting make him the standout character, and he plays well off the simpler morally upstanding Thor (whom Hemsworth also does a great job with, again). Loki, by the way, matches Darcy with his jokes and quips.

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is well-acted, but ultimately devolves into an obnoxious character, and Frigga (Rene Russo) is only there to create an emotional scene early on in the story. When introduced to Jane, though, these two do make for a good brief chuckle-worthy Asgardian version of Meet the Parents. The rest of the cast is quite good - even Christopher Eccleston, whose character, dark elf Malekith, is kind of one-dimensional.

You won't really be surprised by anything that happens in Thor: The Dark World. But you will be entertained. It's memorable and surely the second-best installment in Marvel's cinematic universe, after Iron Man. And due to the rapidly expanding mystical worlds involved, this series probably has the most longevity of any of Marvel's creations.

As superhero flicks go, this one is still pretty standard fare for the casual viewer, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. And if pure escapist entertainment is the goal, Thor: The Dark World pretty much hits the nail on the head.

"Thor: The Dark World"

2013, 112 mins.

Directed by Alan Taylor

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings

Photo: Marvel Movies Wiki

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