Why do we have a Thor? In the Marvel pantheon — now Disney’s plaything, natch — we find no more dullsville lunk among the top-tier characters. He’s back in a second disposable movie, “Thor: The Dark World,” in which Chris Hemsworth’s shaggy locks almost distract you from his faux Victorian delivery and the fact that, aside from a magical hammer and a jawline to match it, this plodding interdimensional Viking space prince doesn’t have much to recommend him.
Iron Man cracks wise and enjoys eye-popping special effects. The Hulk wrecks cities as easily as squishing sand between his toes. Even Captain America shows us more verve during an extended trailer before this “Thor” installment (a fellow member of the Avengers, ol’ Cap is slated for his own sequel next spring). Thor can fly, and favors capes, and has a thing for Natalie Portman. His fans look at themselves and say, hey, two out of three.
At least in “The Avengers,” the third-highest-grossing movie ever, he was squaring off against an entertaining villain: Loki, played again here by actual actor Tom Hiddleston. Loki is Thor’s brother by adoption, making them both princes and giving them quarrel over who will succeed Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in Santa beard) as king of Asgard.
With Loki now passing time in the palace’s four-star dungeon, Thor needs another bad guy to almost beat him, so we get a ruthless dark elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) with all the personality and verve of an amputated leg. He has an evil magic weapon that will destroy the nine realms once they come into alignment and [interlude of mumbly comic-book glop] with Stonehenge and gravitational anomalies. So of course Thor and friends caper in and try and rescue everything everywhere.
The overall non-enjoyability of Thor jives with a truism about superheroes: namely, that they can’t be too super. His nominal mortality and his soft spot for human ladies goes only so far in making Thor your quasi-god next door. Early on in “The Dark World,” Thor descends onto some war-torn planet to conk heads.
He and his magical space-Viking pals crack wise as they fight, until everyone shuts up and steps aside for a stone Goliath to trudge onto the battlefield and stare Thor down. Our hero chuckles and offers to accept the monster’s surrender. The monster of course isn’t interested, so Thor rubblizes him with one swing of the hammer. He does this surely to highlight how improbably tough Malekith is when the two fight later. But it’s yawn-inducing to watch the casual razing of a creature that would’ve taken up five solid minutes of awesome fighting in a “Lord of the Rings” sequel.
Thor might suffer by the comparison, but it’s evident Marvel/Disney is hoping to grab some of that fantasy/sci-fi audience that doesn’t know where to spend its entertainment cash between installments of “The Hobbit,” uh, trilogy. Directing “Thor” were two solid Hollywood hands: Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon. With those fellows onto other things, Disney hired the less-famous Alan Taylor for the sequel. What has Alan Taylor been up to lately? Oh, just directing six episodes of “Game of Thrones,” the far darker, sexier, scarier, funnier, more nuanced HBO fantasy series. “The Dark World” suffers in that comparison as well, but you can see where Disney’s aiming: “Game of Thrones” for 10-year-olds.
It’s just too bad they can’t give their hero a dose of humanity and infuse its villains with more than a vague mission of “do evil.” Not even the intentional comic relief can