Earlier this year, director Alan Taylor revealed that he was filming reshoots on Thor: The Dark World.  The new footage was said to greatly
expand the presence of Tom Hiddleston’s mischievous Loki character.

This proves to be a wise decision, even if it doesn’t quite save an otherwise ho-hum affair.

The Dark World is at its best by far when Hiddleston is front and center, providing sly comic relief and a welcome element of intrigue to the
film’s generic plot.

Out from under the weight of being the primary villain in Thor and The Avengers, Hiddleston and the writers get to have a lot of fun with this
character.  He jokes and plots and goads Thor in wonderfully satisfying fashion.  As a result, he is a far more enjoyable character and I wish
he had an even greater role in the movie.

Many films have anti-heroes, but Loki is something of an anti-villain.  He serves as the counter-balance to the stiff heroes and bland
villains, as well as the film’s cliché-ridden plot.

He is far, far more interesting than Chris Hemsworth as Thor or Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster.  While I somewhat enjoyed Thor and
Jane’s goofy fish-out-of-water chemistry in the original film, this time their romance is played more seriously.  It’s not an improvement and
serves to expose their flat characters and even flatter performances.

Even aside from Hiddleston, the supporting cast is superior to the film’s leads.

Kat Dennings is good once again as Jane’s out-there intern and Stellan Skarsgard also gets some laughs as the loony Dr. Erik Selvig,
although, most of his material revolves around him being in some state of undress.  While investigating a scientific anomaly, Selvig strips
nude and is arrested in a scene the film shows us twice for some reason.

The film’s sense of humor is certainly among its greatest attributes.  Another is the director’s surprising visual prowess.

Taylor, a first time feature film director, infuses The Dark World with outstanding style and engaging action set pieces.  This is instantly
noticeable in the film’s gorgeous introduction, a superb blend of moody cinematography, production design and superb visual effects.

And yet, this sequence is also a model for The Dark World’s failings.  The villains are poorly established and the film’s MacGuffin, the Aether
(Evil floating liquid stuff), is never adequately defined.

While nice to look at, the sequence basically boils down to- These guys are bad and they want this bad thing.

It also goes out of its way to mention that the Aether was eventually sealed away where no one could ever find it.  Yet, minutes later, Jane
stumbles onto it without even looking for it.

The Asgardians really suck at hiding their secret powers.

The poorly drawn plot devices continue to hurt the film as it moves along.  The sequences involving the villainous Dark Elves are
completely dispensable and none of them bring anything to the table in terms of character or genuine menace.  As far as I can tell they just
don’t like the light and want to return the universe to darkness.  Maybe they have photophobia.

Once again, it’s the magical universe side of the story that really bogs things down.  The second act in particular is a bit of a bore after Thor
and Jane return to Asgard.  The musings of Thor and Odin (Anthony Hopkins playing Anthony Hopkins) are simply not compelling.

Even a major death here yields very little dramatic impact, despite being beautifully directed by Taylor.

The ensuing sequence in which Thor, Loki and company escape Asgard is one of the film’s best thanks to Hiddleston.

Unfortunately, after Loki leaves the scene, the film shifts back into its conventional comic book trappings.

The climax does feature an outstanding bit of action direction by Taylor as Thor and Dark Elf Malekith battle amidst unstable wormholes that
randomly transport them across the universe.  The sequence could have been nearly incomprehensible, but Taylor executes it brilliantly.
It's like the film Jumper, except not terrible.

Brian Tyler’s score is also very good, providing suitably epic action music along with some surprisingly strong dramatic cues.  I just wish it
was more present in the mix, as it often takes a back seat to the sound effects (Which sound suspiciously similar to the Star Wars prequels).

In spite of its many failings, Thor: The Dark World is actually a slight upgrade over the original.  It’s still not a good film, but it’s an
entertaining one that gets a boost from its outstanding production values and design, as well as its welcome sense of humor.

It won’t win over the uninitiated, but The Dark World should satisfy fans biding their time until the next Avengers film.

At least it didn’t put me into the Odinsleep like the original.

* * ½
(out of four)
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus &
Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom
Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Kramer Morgenthau

Released: November 8, 2013; 112 Minutes