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."
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.
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.
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.
Returning along with Portman are sarcasm sidekick Kat Dennings (as Jane's intern) and Stellan Skarsgard (as discredited scientist Erik Selvig). Chris O'Dowd makes a welcome cameo as a blind date for a very reluctant Jane.
The tone is far more amiable on Earth (London, to be specific, the site of the final showdown) 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.
"Thor: The Dark World" (2 stars)
The brawny Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes on the Aether, a new dark energy that threatens the nine realms (including earth, home of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). He must ask his villainous adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleton) for help.
Rated: PG-13 for violence and content.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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