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'Thor: The Dark World' more thudding than thunderous, critics say

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The titular hammer-wielding superhero returns in "Thor: The Dark World," this time to stop a race of dark elves from plunging the universe into blackness. But, despite all creation hanging in the balance, film critics are somewhat unmoved by the god of thunder's latest outing — though they are pretty keen on his brother Loki.

In a review for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Phillips writes, "So how's this 'Thor' sequel? Same old threats of galaxy annihilation spiced with fairly entertaining fish-out-of-water jokes." Director Alan Taylor "handles the battle sequences dutifully and without much visual dynamism," Phillips says, noting that the 3-D version doesn't add much. He continues: "By now, in this Marvel world, we've seen everything twice, and it's hard to impress audiences with something new."

On the plus side, "amid the digital mayhem and smashed columns, plenty of fine actors in 'Thor 2' do what they can," including Tom Hiddleston as the trickster Loki and Kat Dennings as an astrophysics intern.

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The New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis is less impressed, writing, "If the multiple idiocies on view strike you as neither here nor there, it's probably because your eyeballs are too busy recoiling from the onslaught of disorienting 3-D effects, or else too distracted by the title character's Popeye arms and really big mallet."

The dark elves, led by Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, are "disappointing villains," and Thor himself, as played by Chris Hemsworth, "voice pitched low enough for mystified worms to detect its vibrations, has neither the glint in his eye nor the lightness in his step that would signal some winking self-awareness." Hiddleston, at least, is "the spoonful of sugar that helps this medicine go down."

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern says the big problem "is that this action-adventure sequel from Marvel soon turns so dumb and 3-D-murky that it hurts." He continues: "Most of the action is generic, though sufficiently straightforward to provide relief from the incoherent storytelling. Which realm are we in now? Where were we a moment ago, and how did everyone get here? Such questions seem not to have troubled the writers or producers." As for Taylor, a veteran TV director, "there's no sign he has a feel for feature films; his emphasis is entirely on big set pieces at the expense of narrative flow."

Hiddleston, for the record, "is entertaining once again."

NPR's Ian Buckwalter offers a more positive review: "Taylor fully embraces [the Thor backstory's] fantasy elements, deftly deploying them to abrade against the earthbound segments and playing up the incongruities for comic relief. Taylor knows this territory well: His director's chair was most recently parked on the set of HBO's 'Game of Thrones,' and he brings the epic sweep of that fantasy series to the otherworldly parts of this film, only with a much bigger budget for painting on a much larger digital canvas."

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In the end, "dimensions collide, and Taylor allows the film to hurtle with the force of Thor's hammer into pure popcorn-spectacle territory. And that's one realm that "The Dark World" exists in quite comfortably."

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman writes, " 'Thor: The Dark World,' a watchable but technologically overscaled slab of Marvel boilerplate, is far from a great superhero movie — it's more like the diagram for one." He adds, "The new film sprawls, often with more spirit than reason. And though its images can be exciting (the Oz-like palace of Asgard, airships that glide like daggers), the battles have a videogame medieval dazzle that temporarily heightens the senses, then leaves you numb."

How about some praise for Hiddleston? Of course: "Only when Tom Hiddleston is on screen, as Thor's dark-souled stepbrother, Loki, does any real drama take hold."

Finally, USA Today's Claudia Puig says "The Dark World" is "leaden, non-involving and filled with mind-numbing computer-generated effects." She adds, "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.'"

Hiddleston's Loki is "a charmingly campy villain," but he doesn't get to do much — "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."

Perhaps the next "Thor" movie should be "Loki."

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