Watching an old Hammer rap video would be preferable to slogging through the mallet-centric mishmash of Thor: The Dark World.
This sequel (** out of four; rated PG-13, opens Friday nationwide) to the 2011 flagship from Marvel Studios is leaden, non-involving and filled with mind-numbing computer-generated effects. The story gives a nod to Norse mythology, but it should have focused less on the brawny god Thor and more on his cunning brother Loki, the god of mischief.
The perfunctory story picks up after the conclusion of 2012's The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is faced with thunderous tasks: Keep the cosmos in working order and fend off an evil race known as the Dark Elves. They're led by the malevolent Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who seeks to plunge the inter-galactic universe into darkness and despair. This entails a killer substance that sounds like ether, but is actually spelled ''Aether.'' (We learn this through subtitles since the nasty elves speak their own brand of non-Tolkien Elvish). Unleashing the Aether will bring about annihilation across all realms. Portals are involved. But aren't they always in space fantasy adventures?
As Odin, Thor's godly father and ruler of Asgard, Anthony Hopkins looks as though he'd rather be home watching Breaking Bad. Odin wants to declare battle against Malekith and his dark minions, who are actually quite pasty-faced. But Thor prefers his one-man army maneuvers, which involve big bangs from his trusty silver hammer.
Almost as precious to him as his magical mallet is mortal scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The feeling presumably is mutual, but you could never tell it by looking at Portman's face, which remains as stony as Thor's powerful weapon. Perhaps that's why Thor likes her so much. She reminds him of his beloved mallet.
Her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) is livelier, but has far less screen time. Such is also the case for Tom Hiddleston as Loki, a charmingly campy villain. Loki, Darcy and Jane's would-be suitor Richard (Chris O'Dowd), have the lion's share of funny lines — which is not to imply that humor is at all abundant here.
Loki spends most of his screen time caged up in a dungeon for his misdeeds. Sequestering him may be the proper retribution for his wrongdoings, but it's a tactical error in this story, lessening the fun. He still gets off some snarling quips, but they're not enough to save this vapid film.
While some visual effects are flashy and the production design is gleaming and intricate (if unworthy of 3-D), the overall movie is a convoluted bore. It livens up somewhat when Thor descends to Earth — specifically London. He even boards the Tube, superhero cape and all.
While the first Thor had a fish-out-of-water charm, this follow-up seems too influenced by The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Game of Thrones (episodes of which director Alan Taylor also has helmed).
Speaking of blockbusters, the film has a few Easter egg surprises to satisfy fans of the Marvel universe.
Mostly, however, this flavorless, formulaic, forgettable spectacle feels like a place-holder in the Avengers franchise.