Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Alice Krige, Jonathan Howard, Clive Russell
Written by: Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on a story by Don Payne, Robert Rodat, and on a comic book by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber
Directed by: Alan Taylor
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content
Running Time: 112
Date: 11/08/2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hammer Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At the end of Thor two years ago, the portal between Asgard and Earth was closed, thereby dooming the blossoming romance between the Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) and the lovely scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

Except that Thor briefly visited Manhattan, and was seen on TV, in last year's The Avengers, prompting Jane -- when they're reunited in Thor: The Dark World -- to slap her man in the face. (He was in town and did not call, see.)

Thankfully this playfulness occurs throughout the new sequel, as all of the principal players joke around with each other, and poke fun at themselves.

Aside from Thor and Jane, there's Jane's wisecracking intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), as well as her new intern (Jonathan Howard), and scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who is mostly seen either naked or pantsless ("it helps him think").

Happily, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) -- perhaps the best movie supervillain after the Joker -- is back. Although he's not the primary bad guy, and he reluctantly teams up with his adoptive brother Thor to help save the universe, he still gets to trigger his fair share of mischief. Hiddleston brilliantly uses his combination warm eyes and snaky smile to blindside others.

These characters make up for the many scenes in which the boring, flat bad guys try to take over the universe, or, more specifically, procure the "ether" that will allow them to take control of the Nine Realms.

The good news is that this magical ether opens invisible doors between the realms. The movie makes the most of this idea, with everything from shoes and car keys disappearing to lumbering, hungry monsters suddenly appearing in London.

The director on the first Thor was Kenneth Branagh, who likely knew something about mythology and very definitely knew a thing or two about acting.

He has been replaced by Alan Taylor, who was most recently employed on TV's "Game of Thrones." And so the movie has a lot of dingy, grungy battle sequences, with modern-day martial arts fighting techniques, featuring enemy warriors we don't know and care little about.

On the plus side, though, at least Taylor is not a camera-shaker and the action looks clean -- good thing, since the movie is presented in 3D.

Yet the movie succeeds best while focusing on the recognizable, likable, and highly enjoyable characters and their offbeat relationships.

It's not as balanced or as streamlined as The Avengers, but Thor: The Dark World still hammers it home.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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