Thor: The Dark World

I liked the first “Thor” movie, released way back in 2011, probably in part because I’d never read a Thor comic book and didn’t have any investment in the character or the mythology (Marvel, not Norse). The film was a little light on action, but I didn’t mind because it was so cheerful and funny. The sequel, “Thor: The Dark world,” is a thudding misfire, a watered-down and uneven offspring of that first film. It still has characters who serve no real plot function — lookin’ at you, Darcy (Kat Dennings) — but who now aren’t funny, either. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his mortal beloved, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), produce so few sparks as a couple that it’s hard to buy their love as something worth traversing the universe for. And the action, directed this time by TV stalwart Alan Taylor, is tepid and unengaging.

The plot is an amalgamation of standard superhero stories: a monstrous villain seeks a vaguely defined but dangerous weapon with the intent of plunging the universe into darkness; the hero’s girlfriend coincidentally gets dragged into it; eventually a portal to another world opens in the sky above a major city, which gets wrecked. That formula is fine, but only when the details are interesting. In this case, they aren’t. The villain, a dark elf called Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), is devoid of personality, and a weak replacement for Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s still here but sidelined for a lot of the movie. (The film gets about 58% better whenever Loki shows up.) The weapon, a nebulous gas or plasma or something called Aether, has the potential to … do bad things … when the planets converge, which they’re about to do, et cetera. The first half feels clumsy and off-balance, a congenial but chaotic jumble of anemic action and wan storytelling. Things improve in the second half, when the objectives are clearer and Loki has more to do, but it’s still an underwhelming experience.

C- (1 hr., 52 min.; PG-13, the usual comic-book violence.)