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Thor: The Dark World
Genre Fantasy

Thor: The Dark World follows Thor, a film that cemented Chris Hemsworth as one of The Avengers and a Hollywood star. The sequel is a continuation of both Thor and The Avengers, making reference to both films while retaining the core ensemble from the first film, including Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba and Tom Hiddleston.

We're introduced to Malekith, a new villain in the Marvel dynasty, whose quest is to be bond with Aether, a substance and weapon that could spell the end of the world as we know it. Jumping between earth and Asgard is enough to make your head spin, and in Thor: The Dark World, they've inverted the two thirds Earth, one third Asgard ratio that helped anchor Thor.

While Kenneth Branagh directed Thor, Game of Thrones director, Alan Taylor, has been brought in to handle the sequel. This was probably a good call, given the medieval slant and script's broad plot lines and burgeoning list of characters. Taylor has given Asgard more scope in The Dark World. As the film spends the majority of the time there, we're given a more in-depth perspective.

Thor: Dark World has some strong influences from franchises including: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, He-Man and Masters of the Universe and even Transformers. Malekith and his race of Dark Elves are similar to Tolkien's orcs and some scenes even mimic the Hobbit camaraderie and beautiful Elvish architecture of The Lord of the Rings.

There are even echoes of Harry Potter, most prominent in the rivalry between Thor and Loki. Their competitive nature, common denominator and magical abilities echo early Harry Potter films, while the constant switching between Earth and Asgard is reminiscent of journeys to Hogwart's. The classic He-Man versus Skeletor rivalry has parallels with the treatment of Thor and Malekith, while some of the weapon technology and architecture would have been right at home with Masters of the Universe.

The Transformers influence is really a weighting in terms of the film's tendency towards action intensive sequences and big budget visual effects over cohesive storytelling. We're given a planetary event known as The Convergence to house all the subplots and the various elements to shift the balance of power. The characters navigate their way through this climate of peril with loose plotting linking one action power play after another.

Chris Hemsworth is a fine actor, but to be blunt, he's playing a dumb blonde in Thor: The Dark World. The on-and-off romance and his call to protect the realm are the residue from Thor that keep him going in this sequel and it seems to be as much his film as it was inThe Avengers. There are some hints at that overinflated ego that made the fish-out-of-water comedy so enjoyable in the first film, but he seems distracted.

Antony Hopkins is more at ease as Odin in Thor: The Dark World, but also seems to be there for the sake of continuity and to add more weight to the already solid ensemble. Natalie Portman is less of a damsel accessory to Thor in the sequel, playing a foil to a cute and funny Kat Dennings and becoming a surrogate plot device with recurring romantic interludes with Thor.

Stellan Skarsgård steals scenes as a mad scientist with every reason to have lost his mind. He adds a good dose of maniacal charm and elevates the comic undercurrent. Tom Hiddleston picks up where he left off as Loki in The Avengers, bringing a dark complexity, intelligence and grace to the fallen angel and sibling rivalry with Thor. Then, Christopher Eccleston's cold take on Malekith is foreboding and iconic, mostly thanks to impressive make up and special effects, but could've been more defined and powerful.

Thor: The Dark World is visually impressive and immense, earning its stripes as an epic superhero action blockbuster. The film's "interplanetary" scale makes it feel almost as broad as Star Wars in terms of diverse worlds and races. The filmmakers have a tough time grounding the action but deliver spectacular visual artistry best served by the IMAX experience.

While it's action-packed and wildly entertaining, the film's free range plot lines don't add up. The screenwriters behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier have done a great job in giving life to this universe and incorporating elements from the previous films, but the characters are shallow and the film is insubstantial.

You're constantly enthralled by the visual effects, amused by intermittent bursts of comedy, impressed with the production design and entertained by a stellar cast. Unfortunately, the scatter shot storytelling, balance of real vs. unreal and lightweight characterization diminish the overall effect. Thor: The Dark World is enjoyable enough and makes a worthy sequel, but it's not on par with Thor.

The bottom line: Fun

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