THOR: THE DARK WORLD (PG13)
Duration: 112 minutes
The story: A year after the devastation of New York depicted in The Avengers (2012), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is now locked away in an Asgard dungeon. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), searching for a means to contact Thor (Chris Hemsworth), accidentally reawakens the last of the Dark Elves, a race thought to be destroyed by Thor's grandfather millennia ago. A rare alignment of the Nine Realms gives the elves a means to reestablish their dominion over the universe.
There was always the potential for a Thor story to be swamped by its own geeky mythology. The first Thor (2011) was a giddying, often confusing speed-read about gods, their families, realms and bridges and, more importantly, the rules which determine their behaviour.
The sequel assumes that the viewer knows who does what and where, then throws in a few more chapters of convoluted set-up, enough to make a viewer long for the kind of spandex hero movie in which an average guy is bitten by a radioactive spider then wakes up able to save the world.
Fans of the comic series will rejoice to see the film stick to scripture, bringing in the Dark Elf villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, under heavy prosthetics), who first appeared in the comic book series in 1984.
Those who do not care for comics and who show up just to see Chris Hemsworth do battle (or take off his shirt, as he does in one scene) will not be disappointed: The film opens with a war between the gods and the Dark Elves, and carries on with more loud, PG13-grade laser beam gun battles throughout.
There is a cool swirly computer effect whenever the elves deploy a matter- warping bomb. To add more eye candy to the already overwhelming 3-D sword- and-sorcery spectacle, the elves commute in hyper-agile spacecraft, useful to have in several videogame-style chase scenes - the sort done in every other science-fiction movie.
In between, there are far too many of the dreaded "whys" to be explained: Why Thor has not been in touch with Jane, why the Elves have come back, why some are able to break out of the Asgard's transparent and supposedly unbreakable dungeon.
Herein lies another problem, one found in poorly written fantasy fiction: It uses one myth to create a dramatic problem, then uses another to fix it.
Director Alan Taylor comes to the project with a background in critically acclaimed television shows such as Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie and, more pertinently, Game Of Thrones, which, like this movie, features leather, swords and clan warfare.
Taylor packs in several episodes' worth of characters here; far too many have walk-ons, then disappear entirely.
The film's two key villains, the elves and Loki (Hiddleston), are puzzlingly underdeveloped. This, with the ham-fisted piling-on of mythology, makes this movie fall short of the charm and broad appeal found in recent Marvel works The Avengers and Iron Man 3.
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