"Thor's cast affirm their reliability with a string of solid performances"

Marvel is a studio that clearly knows what it's doing. After earning its crown as undisputed king of the action blockbuster genre with 2012's Avengers Assemble, Marvel's tireless schedule seems to have kicked into an even higher gear. The powerhouse studio is releasing its second film of the year having already grossed $1.2 billion from Iron Man 3 back in the spring. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and the rest of the cast of Thor: The Dark World must feel they are in safe hands then, as they reprise their roles in this sequel to the 2011 film that blended Norse mythology with superhero action. The film's director Alan Taylor, a relative newcomer to film, will be hoping his vast experience in television (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos) will transfer over to the big screen.

With Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned and order restored to the nine realms, Thor (Hemsworth) returns to Asgard following the events of Avengers Assemble, but it's not long before the universe's fragile state of peace is once again threatened by a race of Dark Elves hellbent on ushering in a new age of darkness. The Dark Elves are led by the cold, emotionless Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), once an adversary to Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who dreams only of revenge. In the human world the action has shifted to London, a welcome change of scenery that UK audiences will enjoy (Thor riding the tube!). Thor's love interest Jane Foster (Portman) and her comical intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) return, having not heard from Thor since the events of the first film, but Foster very quickly becomes central to Malekith's plans.

It's a plot that, despite lacking in originality, is perfectly watchable and feels less convoluted than one or two of Marvel's previous offerings. The film moves at a fairly steady pace, clocking in at under 2 hours, never allowing itself to linger on any one particular moment and become stale. Kenneth Branagh's original Thor was a cheesy, campy affair and audiences weren't given an in-depth enough look into the film's universe, presumably because the franchise wasn't yet established. Alan Taylor and his crew right those wrongs here with all the sets, in particular Asgard, feeling far more fleshed out. Thor's home-world now lives and breathes, a marked improvement from the first film's empty CGI cityscape.

Thor's cast affirm their reliability with a string of solid performances, punctuated once again by Tom Hiddleston's fan-favourite Loki. The Marvel universe has hit on something very special with Loki (proved by thousands of fans chanting his name at this year's Comic-Con), he's an antagonist you can really get behind, making him one of Marvel's most watchable characters.

Fans of the endless conveyor belt of superhero movies will feel quite comfortable with The Dark World, what it misses in originality it makes up for with relatively solid storytelling and moments of comedy that universally appeal. That said, audiences that grow weary of the Marvel machine won't be won over, the film doesn't provide many points that set apart from the rest of the field. It's no doubt that The Dark World will be a financial success, but where Thor ranks among the cannon of great superheroes is still too early to tell. After three films, Thor's brother Loki still stands firmly in the spotlight.