Let's face it: Thor isn't a very complex guy. He's an ancient Norse deity, but he's not quite a full-fledged god. His people, a brood of costumed brawlers who spend their days tromping around the mythical city of Asgard, live thousands of years, but not forever. Thor is the son of Asgard's king Odin (Anthony Hopkins), a craggy old man with a permanently affixed eye-patch and a Santa Claus beard. When the young prince isn't clobbering rock giants from other realms with his fancy magical mallet, Mjolnir, he occasionally shows up on Earth to play comic-book superhero and punch bad guys, but only during summers when there's a new Avengers film out.
Basically, Thor is a big guy with a cape and a hammer. To him, everything looks like a nail.
As played by Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: The Dark World," the latest incarnation of the Marvel comics hero is rakish, confident and capably athletic. Mr. Hemsworth has rippled abs and mountainous biceps that the movie makes sure to luxuriate over in an early and entirely pointless scene of show-offy shirtlessness. Combined with his long, golden locks and his air of casual frat-boy swagger, Mr. Hemsworth's Thor often looks as if he just arrived from a particularly epic game of beach volleyball.
It's a fun life Thor has, zapping magically between Asgard and the rest of the realms his people claim to rule, winning wars and chugging celebratory ales. Fun, that is, until an ancient villain stirs. There's a far-flung backstory involving Thor's grandfather and an age-old war between gods, but the arcane particulars don't matter. You can tell how evil the revived baddie is by his suit of black armor, his booming subterranean growl of a voice, his dead- eyed stare, and his unquestionably evil-sounding name: Malekith the Accursed.
Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) has a suitably villainous plan involving death, destruction and a pair of powerful mystical concepts: the Aether and the Convergence. The movie leaves the details of both fairly vague, but it does reveal the following about the Convergence: "Few can sense it. Even fewer can see it." Fewer still, I suspect, can explain it.
But why would anyone want to? This isn't a movie for those who crave finely tuned plotting. Like its titular hero, this superhero sequel is big and broad and self-satisfied but not terribly concerned with the details. For those who like special-effects- ridden hero films, which, judging by recent box-office numbers, appears to be just about everyone, it's also reasonably entertaining as well.
This movie offers less of a showcase for Natalie Portman, who reprises her role as Thor's earthly love interest, the scientist Jane Foster, than its 2011 predecessor. And it probably could have used more of the great Tom Hiddleston's Asgardian trickster Loki as well. But it offers an appealing mix of screwball comedy, big- budget action scenes and likable renditions of comic book characters.
What it doesn't offer is much of an individual cinematic personality. The movie was directed by Alan Taylor, a regular behind the camera on HBO's "Game of Thrones," but it comes across as a by- committee product of the well-oiled Marvel Comics movie machine. There's a sort of formulaic competence to the way the movie pounds through its beats. Given the formula's success, you can hardly blame them for using it again. At this point, predictable but enjoyable superhero movies are something that Marvel Studios has pretty well nailed down.
TITLE: "Thor: The Dark World"
CREDITS: Directed by Alan Taylor, screenplay by Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus
RATING: PG-13 for violence, mild language
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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