Movie review: "Thor" sequel fails to hammer it home

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Fun fact: Did you know that by the year 2016, 46 percent of all movies will include members of The Avengers? OK, slight exaggeration, but I can't be the only one feeling a little Avengers fatigue, can I?

Of the initial run of Marvel superhero movies leading up to last summer's Joss Whedon-helmed "Avengers," "Thor" initially looked like the weak link. I mean, how much can you really empathize with a Norse god?

But the first "Thor" movie was a lot more thrilling, punchy and just plain fun than I expected. The post-"Avengers" sequel "Thor: The Dark World" turns out to be more of the dud I was expecting, made worse by raised expectations.

After the events of "Avengers," Thor has returned to his native realm of Asgard to quell unrest, leaving behind his beloved Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Meanwhile, Thor's adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is sentenced to rot away in an Asgardian prison … until a larger evil arises.

Look, when it comes to movies like these, directors matter, and the curious choice to follow first "Thor" director Kenneth Branagh with Alan Taylor may be the first misstep. Taylor is mostly a television director, including most significantly to this project, several episodes of "Game of Thrones."

Pacing is a problem, as sequences setting up an intergalactic finale drag, particularly when the film spends far more time on Asgard, with almost none of the fish-out-of-water charm that made the first film work.

A convoluted script - it's never a good sign when you see five names involved in one screenplay adaptation - never grabs hold. The set piece action sequences are a blast, but the confusion that arises in between makes them less impactful.

Hemsworth was a relative unknown, but now that we've seen what he can do, he's somehow less charming, and Portman is a virtual ghost.

Overall, though, "The Dark World" feels too focused on its faraway land, like a watered-down "Lord of the Rings" or the most ponderous parts of "The Phantom Menace."

Avenger die-hards will likely still enjoy it, but I can't wait for the heroes to be back in the hands of a storyteller like Whedon.

"Thor: The Dark World"

Opens Thursday

2 stars out of 4