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While teenagers and young adults continue to inject windfalls of cash into the film industry — literally buying bucket loads of popcorn and snacks and investing heavily in ancillary markets such as VOD, DVD and video games — the argument continues that Tinseltown is pumping out way too many salt-burn superhero pics that are way too similar.

Before we go further, let’s clarify two things. First: that argument is more or less right. Second: it’s almost always made by people outside the genre’s target demographic.

In addition to the intended audience and those who would never step foot into Thor 2: The Dark Age unless their glasses fogged up and they accidentally veered into the wrong cinema to discover Captain Phillips has a massive magical mallet and Tom Hanks sure looks good for his age, there are two other primary audiences. They are the “had a long week” crowd understandably lured by the promise of spectacle and escapism, and those dragged in by association (parents, guardians, aggravated partners, emergency response teams, etc).

To the first group my advice is to stay away from director Alan Taylor’s sequel about a thespian-voiced Summer Bay lookalike with a huge hammer (not a euphemism) and a humourless one-eyed version of Anthony Hopkins for a father. It’s drab, bloated and stuck together with special effects that look like high-end Microsoft screensavers. To the second group, my commiserations.

Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the titular “Mighty Avenger” who battles to save Earth against “the Nine Realms.” If “the Nine Realms” sounds to you like questionably thought-out back-story hokum spun with spiffy fantasy/SCI-FI vernacular, you’d be right. And that’s before we factor in words such as “Malekith,” “Odin” and “Asgard.”

A meaty opening prologue — such is the cookie cutter template for a self-important multi-world fantasy picture such as this, riddled with uninteresting histories about chequered dynasties of the yada yada yada and so forth — is tacked onto a story that switches between Earth and the orange-hued SFX-stuffed planet our hero calls home.

Earth has Natalie Portman, playing superhero accessory and “scientist” Jane Foster. The latter has vast CGI backdrops, otherworldly locales and strange gnarly beasts. Through a jerry-built plot contrivance those beasts spill onto Earth, a symptom of a wider problem: the team of writers can’t seem to decide which universe to settle on so they settle on both and neither.

The film wraps itself around each world as delicately as a slap band landing on a fat hairy arm and the resolution, from a writer’s POV, is a perfect storm of idiocy: characters, beasts and random objects cross through portals connecting “this world” and “the next” like a goofy souped-up version of Sliders, with Jerry O’Connell presumably face-planted somewhere between realities, wiping white fuzz off his face.

Occasionally Thor: The Dark World writes itself out of tragedy by inhaling a pinger of fish out of water comedy — i.e. Thor catches the train and Thor hangs his hammer on a coat rack. But even by the generous allowances afforded to superhero shenanigans, if this is the kind of storytelling pass-carded by critics, may God have mercy on us all.

One wrote that “Chris O’Dowd is great comic value,” neglecting to mention he appears in just two short scenes separated by an hour and a half of running time. The same critic described Natalie Portman as “highly decorative and suitably feminine.”

Suitably, sorry, what? Does that mean Portman looks like she’s on a diet of salary (ho ho) and chickpeas and spends the lion’s share of the movie either gazing longingly at the alpha male of her dreams or waiting obediently for his return?

Get real. Wake up. Go see Captain Phillips.

Thor: The Dark World’s Australian theatrical release date: October 31, 2013. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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