Thor: The Dark World Opens Fri., Nov. 8 at Ark Lodge and

Thor: The Dark World

Opens Fri., Nov. 8 at Ark Lodge and 
other theaters. Rated PG-13. 112 minutes.

Even with its flaws, Thor: The Dark World may be what the wretched Man of Steel should have been. Colorful, godlike hero. Big fights and destruction. Unashamed that it’s from a comic book. Pretty fun. It’s better than Ol’ Goldilocks’ debut in 2011’s Thor—larger in scale, faster-paced, more sure of itself. The fish-with-six-pack-out-of-water shtick is gone, and it’s Hammer Time.

The Marvel mumbo-jumbo: A roiling, magical “Aether” is what Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) needs to destroy the universe in the window that appears every 5,000 years when all nine realms align. Note 1: Not dreamy Lord of the Rings elves, but an unpleasant race that Odin’s father defeated before the universe was formed. (The all-father’s father? Keep moving.) Note 2: Earth and Asgard are two of the realms. Not much about the other seven, but maybe they make all the fabulous Asgardian costumes, like a cosmic Gap.

Earth apparently being the trailer-trash realm, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) wants Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to stop pining about someday-toothless mortal Jane (Natalie Portman), marry warrior-goddess Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and succeed him on Asgard’s throne. But Jane becomes the feisty Aether host body and gets herself invited to Asgard anyway. Awkward? It gets so much worse that Thor unlocks and teams up with treacherous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to save Jane, stop Malekith, and make the universe safe for the Avengers sequel.

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor was respectable, a little dull, not the cream of Marvel’s crop. Its main accomplishment: avoiding laughable ridiculousness with the caped hammer-twirler. Casting still goes a long way. Hemsworth holds his own as jock-god against show-stealer Hiddleston’s drama-god, such that it’s hard to imagine another actor making it work. Branagh successor Alan Taylor comes from good TV (Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Sopranos), and he knows how to keep it moving, give moments to lots of characters, and balance swaggering fights, destruction, and lightheartedness. (See: Thor on the London tube.) The wild climactic battle adds a new wrinkle—and several dimensions—to a tired boss-fight genre.

I say thee nay: scientist Stellan Skarsgård reduced to pantsless comic relief; sidekick Kat Dennings (with a new intern dude) still annoys; Malekith is as two-dimensional as they come; and his attack on Asgard is more Star Wars than Norse. And why just two fighter jets against the giant, world-destroying thing? Oh, right, because it’s a comic book. And take note: Don’t leave before you’ve seen both brief scenes during and after the end credits.