‘Thor: The Dark World’ gets lost in space

By JAKE COYLE  Associated Press   – Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from “Thor: The Dark World.”

3 (out of five stars)

Director: Alan Taylor

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Comic book movies are increasingly like Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”: 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.”

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.

The expansive Marvel universe is carefully stitched together across its many properties.

“The Dark World” (with director Alan Taylor of “Game of Thrones” taking over for Kenneth Branaugh) follows “The Avengers” in chronology and runs alongside the current ABC series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Each is referred to with cloying winks. The great city of New York, for example, is reduced to shorthand for the climactic battle in “The Avengers,” as if we’re still so consumed by that movie.

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.

This occurs as the nine realms are lining up in a rare convergence that makes them particularly susceptible to Aether-spread ruin.

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 at “New York.”

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

Along with Portman, returning is the sarcasm sidekick Kat Dennings (as Jane’s intern) and Stellan Skarsgard as discredited scientist Erik Selvig.

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” earlier 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.