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It might have been one of the curtain-raisers to last year's superhero team effort The Avengers, but 2011's first Thor movie was actually rather good.

Sure, it was delivered with a predictable amount of rubble and - given the combined Norse mythology and decades of cosmic comic-book lore - a vast amount of fantasy babble.

But it still had its charms, mostly due to Chris Hemsworth as Thor in a fish-out-of-water story. He was banished to Earth stripped of his godly powers and found himself falling for his rescuer, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

Yes, it had plenty of big biff and special effects. But care of director Kenneth Branagh managed to make both the characters on Earth and Thor's Shakespearean royal family troubles at home in Asgard made for a superhero movie you feel you hadn't seen before. It was mighty good fun.


This post Avengers part two is, as the title suggests, darker.

It's also a derivative grandly-schemed muddle. One that feels like it's more just another vehicle off the factory line at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the Disney-owned franchise is called.

Dark World has scaled up just about everything. It's goes big on the sci-fi fantasy elements and we get the grand tour of Asgard as well as a few other interplanetary stopovers.

The stakes are higher, with Team Thor up against the Dark Elves who, for reasons best known to themselves, would rather the universe didn't exist.

The nine realms are briefly coming into a cosmic alignment in "The Convergence". So it's apparently a good time to destroy everything in one fell swoop. Especially as someone had finally located The Aether, a mysterious dark matter hidden away for millennia which is just the thing for wiping out all creation.

All of which certainly keeps Thor and his mighty mallet busy.

He's off to Earth then dragging Jane back to Asgard to meet the folks. He's forced to patch things up with disgraced and dungeon-dwelling evil little brother Loki (Hiddleston) in a complicated plan to defeat evil elf boss Malekith (an unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston), a villain who is curiously awol for large parts of the film.

Thor is also under orders from dad Odin (Hopkins) to take over the rule of Asgard unencumbered by his mere mortal of a girlfriend.

But even with the big guy's substantial to-do list, this film seems to spend a lot of time giving everybody else something to do as well.

That's a good thing in the case of Rene Russo as Thor and Loki's Mum Frigga. But it's not quite so beneficial when it comes to Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings as Foster scientist mates and Chris O'Dowd as a would-be suitor.

They're there to be Dark World's light relief but this time the comedy doesn't quite come off.

Director Alan Taylor got the job care of his work on Game of Thrones. While Dark World isn't especially long, it often feels like its cross-cutting across its various worlds as if it was part of an epic television saga.

During all that, our hero and our villian don't really get to meet much. And Portman's character goes from feisty to interplanetary damsel in distress who ends up doing a sleepy beauty for much of the movie due to a touch of the Aether.

That said, Dark World has some impressive big-screen 3D moments. The Dark Elves' spaceship attack on Asgard is Star Wars-goes-to-Rivendell (curiously despite the supposed Norse allusions, Asgard isn't quite Scandanavian-tasteful in its interior design). A resultant longboat space-viking funeral scene is very pretty too.

There are good performances, especially from both sides of the Hemsworth-Hiddleston sibling double-act.

But even with a another impressively rubble-raising finale in one of London's more historic spots and the screentime devoted to Thor's magic hammer Mjolnir doing its boomerang thing, Dark World doesn't quite nail it.

It's just another superhero movie that does little more than get us to the next one.

Stars: 3/5
Verdict: Entertaining but Thor-mulaic
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston Director: Alan Taylor Rating: M (violence) Running time: 112 mins