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‘Thor: The Dark World’: This Avenger not so mighty as solo act

‘THOR: THE DARK WORLD’ ★★1⁄2

Thor | Chris Hemsworth

Jane Foster | Natalie Portman

Loki | Tom Hiddleston

Odin | Anthony Hopkins

Marvel Studios presents a film directed by Alan Taylor and written by Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content). Opens Nov. 8 at local theaters.

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:12AM



The Marvel superhero universe is getting awfully crowded these days, so when the all-stars from “The Avengers” split up for individual adventures such as “Thor: The Dark World,” we just have to take it on faith that the likes of Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America are otherwise occupied with their own adventures.

Still. What with all nine realms of the cosmos (including Earth) in danger of being plunged into darkness for forever and a day, why can’t Tony Stark lend an Iron Hand? What, he’s building a new house with Pepper? Come on!

OK. Let’s just go with the notion of Thor essentially on his own, reunited with his human friends from the first movie (which I loved) and tasked with saving the world from Malekith, another one of those villains who talk with a Darth Vader-esque voice and scheme to end all life as we know it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What’s a guy like Malekith gonna do if he gets his wish, destroys all life and turns the universe into a vast black canvas of nothingness? Wake up every morning and laugh his evil laugh?

I know. It’s a comic-book movie. A 3-D fable. And if it’s done well enough, with terrific performances and nifty plot twists and breathtaking special effects, we don’t worry about such questions of logic.

At times “Thor: The Dark World” does fire on all cylinders, with fine work from the returning cast, a handful of hilarious sight gags and some cool action sequences. But it’s also more than a little bit silly and quite ponderous and overly reliant on special effects that are more confusing than exhilarating.

My favorite superhero movies spend most of their time on Earth, where the superheroes are, well, super. More than half of “The Dark World” is set on the Hammer’s home planet of Asgard and in other realms, meaning we spend a lot of time being underwhelmed by the 3-D visuals and the special effects, which are solid overall but sometimes flat and thin.

We never feel as if Asgard is a living, breathing planet with a real populace to care about.

Having spent the last two years winning wars and maintaining control over the nine worlds, Thor finally gets a breather and returns home where his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, once again delivering the kind of love-to-hate-him performance that makes you smile every time he appears on-screen) has been imprisoned for that whole New York thing.

Anthony Hopkins is still doing his Shakespearean whisper-and-then-BARK thing as their father, the great King Odin, while Rene Russo returns as the queen mother, who still wishes the boys would just get along. (Even thought Loki has murdered thousands of humans and is shackled in a cell for life, Mom still brings him books to read and has appointed the cell with some nice Victorian furnishings she may have picked up at Oprah Winfrey’s garage sale.)

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and her apparent intern-for-life (Kat Dennings), who now has an intern of her own, have relocated to London, where Jane unwittingly unleashes the Aether, a swirling red gas that’s just bad news. The evil Elf King Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) needs that Aether so he and his fellow evil elves from Svartalfheim can, you know, end all forms of life.

I was most entertained by “The Dark World” when Thor was reminded he will live for some 5,000 years and he’s in love with a human who will be around for a mere tick of the clock, relatively speaking, or when Thor was back on Earth, trying to figure out what to do with his hammer when he enters an apartment or takes the subway to his next destination. Let’s face it. Thor’s kind of a bore unless he can play straight man to various forms of life reacting to his ridiculous getup and his giant flying hammer.

When the battles kicked in, semi-yawn. We’ve seen it all before.

Chris Hemsworth does about a good a job as anyone can be expected to do playing a superhero who’s much less complex than Tony Stark/Iron Man, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bruce Banner/Hulk, and so forth and so forth. He’s Thor all the time. He’s not nearly as intriguing as his deeply conflicted adopted bro, Loki, who’s capable of some devilishly clever schemes.

A long way from Academy Awards material, Portman does what she can with the role of the plucky scientist who occasionally becomes the damsel in distress. Stellan Skarsgard and Dennings are saddled with broad, comic-relief roles, and Dennings in particular annoys with her dippy one-liners.

Not all Avengers are created equal. Iron Man can carry a movie by himself. So can the Hulk, at least sometimes. Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye —team players. After the first “Thor” movie, I would have given the big fella a franchise tag. Now I’m thinking he’s better off letting someone else take the lead.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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