Yet in “The Avengers” last year, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) briefly visited Manhattan, prompting Jane (Natalie Portman) to slap him in the face when they’re reunited in “Thor: The Dark World.” (He was in town and did not call, see.)
Such playfulness thankfully runs throughout the new Thor sequel — the principal players joke around with each other and poke fun at themselves.
In addition to Thor and Jane, there’s Jane’s wisecracking intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), as well as her new intern (Jonathan Howard) and her fellow scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who is mostly seen either naked or without pants (“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 of warm eyes and snaky smile to blindside others.
The appealing characters make up for the many scenes in which 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 the magical ether opens invisible doors between the realms. The filmmakers make the most of the concept — with everything from shoes and car keys disappearing, to lumbering, hungry monsters suddenly appearing in London.
Kenneth Branagh, who directed the first “Thor,” clearly knows a thing or two about mythology and acting. Alan Taylor, most recently employed on TV’s “Game of Thrones,” replaces him on “Thor: The Dark World.”
And so the movie has a lot of dingy, grungy battle sequences showing modern-day martial-arts fighting techniques with enemy warriors audiences don’t know and care little about.
On the plus side, Taylor is not a camera-shaker and the action looks clean. It’s a good thing, since the movie is in 3-D.
Still, it succeeds best as it focuses on the recognizable, likable and highly enjoyable characters and their offbeat relationships. As far as comic book character-based movies go, it’s not as balanced or as streamlined as “The Avengers.” Still, “Thor: The Dark World” hammers it home.
Thor: The Dark World
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
Written by Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directed by Alan Taylor
Running time 2 hours