ThorDarkWorldcoverGrade:  B+
Entire family:  No
2013, 112 min., Color
Rated PG-13
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features: C+

Thor: The Dark World is rated PG-13 for “sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some suggestive content.” I don’t know what suggestive content they’re suggesting, but this 2013 sequel is definitely more violent than the first Thor. Main characters die and there are plenty of first-act hack-and-slash battle sequences similar to ones from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, while spaceship battle action will remind you a bit of those in Star Wars: Episode I. Which is to say, Thor: The Dark World seems to owe a substantial debt for its production design, art direction, set decoration, costume design, and battle sequences and effects to those two fantasy franchises.

But I will say this:  at least the special effects and borrowed elements are quite good, and both my teenage son and I thought Thor: The Dark World superior to the 2011 original. There’s more action this time around, and less deliberate manipulation of the Marvel universe. The result is a film that flows better and gives the characters a little more room to be themselves. Despite the frenetic movement and pacing, we actually notice the performances more—and though minor characters and elves tend toward the wooden, the rest are more than good enough to sustain the illusion.   

Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin, ruler of the mythic Norse world, with Tom Hiddleston playing his adopted son Loki—imprisoned at the start of the film because of things he did in the first installment. The muscular Chris Hemsworth once again picks up the hammer of the title character, and Natalie Portman serves as his love interest, Jane, who inadvertently starts things rolling when she and an assistant stumble upon something called the Aether, which, shades of Ghostbusters, finds a host in her and infiltrates her blood.

ThorDarkWorldscreenOther than obvious health issues, the problem with that is that a Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the film’s chief villain who, of course, is bent on destroying all Nine Realms, needs the Aether in order to rule a new dark kingdom of his own making (“The Aether awakens us. The Convergence returns!”). Naturally it’s up to Thor to try to save his love interest, trust his half-brother, avoid infuriating his father, and somehow stop the Nine Realms (some of which we see battling in the first act) from becoming toast.

That’s why superheroes get the big bucks . . . and generate more bucks at the box office.

Thor: The Dark World is a richly detailed film, and the level of detail we get in HD is nearly breathtaking. Even during frenetic action the edges seem sharply defined, and colors hold true. The sound is even better, filling the room so that it’s a truly immersive experience.

I will say, though, that I had to struggle at times to keep the contrived mythic (and often mythically contrived) story straight in my head. But even if you can’t wrap your mind around it all, there are enough visual and musical cues to let you know what’s good and what’s evil. And in a fantasy superhero outing like this, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?