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Film review: ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is just a Marvel cog

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Thor and Jane try to have a significant moment.

Two and a half stars

Thor: The Dark World Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston. Directed by Alan Taylor. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

After the gleeful popcorn-movie high of The Avengers, it’s a bit of a comedown to see Marvel superhero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) back on his own in his second solo movie, Thor: The Dark World. Thor’s first big-screen adventure was a little underwhelming, and The Dark World continues in the same vein, delivering adequate superhero adventure in a fairly generic manner, and once again serving primarily to move the lumbering Marvel meta-narrative a few steps forward.

Without his fellow Avengers around, Thor returns to being a mostly one-dimensional, godlike being, which makes him a difficult character to build a movie around. Although Thor’s human friends—most notably his scientist love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman)—also return, the focus in The Dark World is on the grandiose battles between gods, and while that does offer a counterpoint to the city-destroying spectacles of most recent superhero movies, it also makes it harder to care about the outcome.

The villain this time is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), an ancient evil force (a “dark elf,” to be precise) who’s been imprisoned for 5,000 years and has now awakened with a plan to destroy the universe, as ancient evil forces typically do. The how and why aren’t really important, although a labored prologue delivered by Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) goes to great lengths to explain them anyway. Poor Malekith is consistently overshadowed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), whose huge popularity among Marvel movie fans (and Hiddleston groupies) means that he can’t possibly sit this movie out. Hiddleston’s playful performance as Thor’s trickster brother is far more entertaining than Eccleston’s one-note menace, and the movie does perk up when Thor must reluctantly team up with Loki in order to put his final plan into motion.

Until the climax, very little of the movie takes place on Earth, which means that the awkward fish-out-of-water humor of the first film is mercifully gone. But it also means that Jane feels even more superfluous to the story, despite an effort to tie her to the all-important whatsit from which Malekith draws his power. Director Alan Taylor, a TV veteran, stages some competent action sequences, and somebody among the five credited screenwriters (plus uncredited rewrites by The Avengers’ Joss Whedon) has come up with a few clever lines. The Dark World hums along mostly as expected, right through the two post-credits stingers, the first of which reinforces that Marvel’s primary interest is in moving the whatsit ahead to the next movie.

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