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Walt Disney Studios
Chris Hemsworth stars in “Thor: The Dark World,” which hammers its way into theaters today.

Movie Review: Sequel spends time away from Earth, without success

‘Thor: The Dark World’

Comic book movies are increasingly lost in space.

Following the summer’s glumly bombastic “Man of Steel,” which added a heavy dose of Krypton politics to Superman’s once pleasantly silly story, comes “Thor: The Dark World,” in which Thor’s Asgard, a celestial home of gods floating somewhere in the universe, is the primary setting. Earth is an afterthought – just one of the “nine realms,” albeit the one with Natalie Portman.

Gone are the earthbound pleasures of a superhero amid us mortals. Such was the joy of the “Spider-Man” movies and the first “Thor,” when Chris Hemsworth’s lofty, hammer-wielding Norse warrior, exiled to Earth, so happily encountered a cup of coffee for the first time.

As Marvel’s latest 3-D behemoth, “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t so much a sequel as the latest plug-and-play into the comic book company’s blockbuster algorithm. It’s a reliably bankable formula of world-saving action sequences, new villain introductions and clever quips from women on the side.

Thor has spent the last two years restoring order to the nine realms of the cosmos, but just as peace settles, a previously locked-away dark energy called the Aether seeps out. It leaks into Portman’s astrophysicist, Jane Foster, awakening a previously vanquished species of Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). They would like to see the universe returned to complete darkness. Not a day person, this Malekith.

This occurs as the nine realms are lining up in a rare convergence that makes them particularly susceptible to Aether-spread ruin. There’s not a lick of character to Malekith and his motives: He just wants to end all life.

To save Life As We Know It, Thor seeks help from his duplicitous adoptive brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has been imprisoned for killing thousands of humans . Hiddleston’s sneering Loki remains one of the finest Marvel antagonists, and – now with a starring role in three films – the franchise seems to value him (as it should) as much as his more heroic brother.

When “The Dark World” touches down on Earth, away from the “Clash of the Titans”-style realms of gods, it’s considerably better.

The tone is far more amiable on Earth than in Asgard, where Anthony Hopkins, Renee Russo and Idris Elba remain locked in golden-hued majesty. Hemsworth, a seemingly perfectly rendered movie star equipped with brawn and baritone, also suffers from the stiffness. He had much more fun in “Rush” this year.

Ardent fans will likely be satiated by the pleasing enough “Thor: The Dark World.” But perhaps at this point, even diehards may wish for something more from a Marvel equation that often subtracts humanity.

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