THE REEL: Heavy-handed ‘Thor’ still strikes like lightning

Ben Conniff

After the super-sized disappointments that were “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel,” my once-pristine faith in comic book movies has been severely tarnished.

It’s no wonder that I felt a splitting headache when I watched the first preview for “Thor: The Dark World” earlier this summer.

In such a year where the blockbuster theme seems to be style over substance, “Thor: The Dark World” shatters the mold as a loose, fun science fiction/fantasy epic.

What makes it so great are the charismatic performances by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston and a screenplay full of some of the funniest, most clever gags in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This is the best solo Marvel hero film since the first “Iron Man.”

That said, the work from “Game of Thrones” director Alan Taylor is less awe-inspiring here compared with Kenneth Branaugh’s opulent 2011 film.

The initial fly-over of Asgard feels more muted here than in the first film, despite strong visuals overall.

“Thor: The Dark World” picks up a year after “The Avengers” in the midst of a cosmic “convergence,” in which each of the Nine Realms of the universe falls into alignment.

Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, given precious little to do but scowl under layers of makeup), the leader of a race known as the “Dark Elves,” sees the convergence as a chance to cloak the entire universe in darkness.

To do that, Malekith must recover the “Aether” – a powerful weapon that looks like a giant, floating spill of cabernet.

Conveniently, the plot thickens when Thor’s scientist girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), unwittingly gets tangled up with Malekith, making the consequences more dire and personal for the God of Thunder.

Are your eyes getting heavy yet?

If the story sounds far-fetched, that’s because it is — even by Marvel’s standards.

What makes it so enjoyable, however, is the voracious pacing and clever humor that scribes Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Chris Yost lend to the story.

The film never seems to take itself too seriously, which is refreshing given this summer’s crop of bleak “Dark Knight” clones.

Give due credit to Tom Hiddleston, whose Loki once again steals the show.

Confronting the aftermath of “The Avengers,” Loki appears crafty as ever.

That smirking façade lets audiences know that sinister gears are always turning inside his head.

This makes him, arguably, the most dynamic character in the Marvel canon thus far, which is why audiences love him to the point of clamoring for Loki’s own spinoff movie.

As for Hemsworth, he brings a larger-than-life charisma, not just to Thor, but to every role he plays.

He embraces the role of Thor in such a way that makes it impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part.

While it falters with a cookie-cutter plot, “Thor: The Dark World” still manages to hammer its recent super-powered box office competitors on the strength of its performances and witty banter.

If you see “Thor,” don’t forget to stay through the credits.

******** 8 OUT OF 10********

***** Now Playing at Regal Bowling Green Stadium 12******