'Thor: the Dark World'
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By Don Gibble  November 15, 2013 12:00 am

Nobody gives good sneer like Tom Hiddleston, back once again as Loki in “Thor: The Dark World” and pretty much steals the show from Chris Hemsworth who plays the title role. He is practically a guest at his own party as scads of new characters and millions of dollars worth of CGI crowd the screen. Most of it pales into insignificance when Loki takes the stage, which isn’t often enough given how wildly uneven the sections without him are. Although director Alan Taylor manages to get things going properly for the final battle in London, the long stretches before that on Asgard are a drag. 

The opening sequence provides back story on the Dark Elves, sharp-beaked, pointy-eared meanies from Alfheim who date back to before the beginning of time and claim a black, gaseous substance called Aether as their all-powerful weapon of mass destruction. They’re seen being vanquished by Thor’s grandfather. Thereafter, the story basically picks up where “The Avengers” left off, with Loki in manacles back on Thor’s home planet after trying to take over our world and trashing New York in the process. His glass-walled, whited-out cell in the dungeon bears a striking resemblance to similar baddie-holding pens in films past, from the “X-Men” franchise to “Skyfall”; there he reads books and has heart-to-heart chats with his adopted mother, Frigga (Rene Russo).

In other realms, Thor has been putting down insurgents alongside his warrior buddies - the Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three, Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral - and preparing to take over from dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as king. Since the Bifrost bridge that connects Asgard to Earth was destroyed two films back, Thor has no means to travel to our world to see Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the fetching lady scientist he became smitten with in the first movie but barely mentioned in “The Avengers.”

Luckily, omnipotent bridge-keeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) can see she’s basically fine, though she’s  mightily annoyed with Thor for not staying in touch. Based in London now, she’s trying to heal her wounded pride by having a blind date with nice but decidedly non-godly Richard. She dumps him unceremoniously as soon as her intern Darcy interrupts their meal with evidence of a space-fabric disturbance that seems familiar. While investigating the weird phenomenon, Jane is sucked into another realm and infected with Aether, which sometimes gives her scary white-free eyes, evoking happy memories of “Black Swan.”

The middle section is mostly a muddle, with endless cross-cutting between the Dark Elves plotting, attacking and then retreating to plot some more and the Asgardians bickering over what they should do. They finally decide - despite manifest evidence provided by two previous films that it would be a very bad idea - to release Loki from jail so that he can fight on their side.

The final showdown in Greenwich, London, squares off the Dark Elves against the Asgardians and humans. It’s here, in this stretch, that the film finally gets its mojo back, finding the requisite balance between bombast and wise-cracks that made the first “Thor” work in its finest moments.

Make sure you stick around for the end credits. You will be very happy you did.

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