Before Marvel’s conquest of pop-culture became a fait accompli, the first Thor movie had the feel of a bridge too far. Sure, movie audiences had lined up around the block for Iron Man, but two Hulk movies had failed to smash, and Thor — a Norse god in the comics who wielded a flying hammer — seemed like the most inaccessible hero of the bunch of Avengers. But then director Kenneth Branagh’s “momentous and lighthearted” 2011 movie came out, and people really seemed to dig Chris Hemsworth’s buff Shakespearean warrior. The movie grossed $181 million and even the critics were kind… ish.

In Thor: The Dark World, the crown prince of Asgard is reunited with his love, astrophyicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), after she discovers an alien substance that puts Earth and the known universe in danger. The threat from a race of Dark Elves — led by Christopher Eccleston — is so great that Thor has no choice but to call upon his devious brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who may be puny but is always a dastardly delight. “Hiddleston, with pleading eyes and a mad-dog grin, plays Loki as a wounded sociopath who’s cackling at the world but seething on the inside,” says EW’s Owen Gleiberman.

Thor was a promising beginning, The Avengers solidified the hero’s standing and made Loki a cinematic god. Will The Dark World raise them to even greater heights? Click below to see what the nation’s critics think before heading to the theater.

Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)

“Hemsworth’s Thor is once again a charismatically fast and bold stud-Viking warrior, but now that he’s mostly on his home planet (with occasional forays down to London), he somehow seems less super. Only when Tom Hiddleston is on screen, as Thor’s dark-souled stepbrother, Loki, does any real drama take hold.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“Hiddleston stole the first Thor picture, but this time Hemsworth holds his own. I’ve been guilty of underrating him; he no longer seems like an overdressed lifeguard but an actor at one with his mythic accoutrements and worthy of his hammer.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today) ▼

“Loki spends most of his screen time caged up in a dungeon for his misdeeds. Sequestering him may be the proper retribution for his wrongdoings, but it’s a tactical error in this story, lessening the fun. He still gets off some snarling quips, but they’re not enough to save this vapid film.”

Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times) ▼

“Newly emerged from hibernation and dead set on sucking every last bit of light from the universe — the screenwriters see no reason to tell us why — the Elves and their leader, Malekith are disappointing villains. Mostly, they just suck up the budget for fancy wigs and fancier contact lenses.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“The bulk of this bloated, plodding sequel … is just another riff about an ancient being, this one named Malekith who wants to destroy the universe — all known universes, actually — as payback as for an ancient slight against his people. Wasn’t this stuff already old hat during the Masters of the Universe days?”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

“Let’s face it, Thor’s kind of a bore unless he can play straight man to various forms of life reacting to his ridiculous getup and his giant flying hammer. When the battles kicked in, semi-yawn. We’ve seen it all before.”

Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)

“There’s some humor, too, but far too little for my taste. … And that’s the real flaw with The Dark World, which seems to have inhaled a bit too much of its own noxious Aether. The only one who seems to have gotten the memo that the whole thing is a gas is the bad guy.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Bigger is not always better. Thor: The Dark World pumps up the action and special effects and loses some of the human element that made the original Thor something charming and unexpected.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe) ▼

“The latest attempt by Marvel Comics and parent company Disney to Borg all of popular culture is a holding maneuver, a superhero tap-dance until the next Avengers movie turns up. … Others may question whether this even qualifies as a movie.”

“Packing this bulging dramatis personae into a two-hour movie must have been a no-fun chore for its chief assemblers … The clutter makes your head feel like it’s about to explode — and not in a good way, with wonders upon wonders.”

Stephen Whitty (Newark Star-Ledger)

“Thor may not be many people’s favorite superhero. Iron Man is wittier, Superman is nobler, Spider-man is angstier, Batman is darker. But Thor was at least — always — different. And this movie makes him just more of the same.”

Thor: The Dark World

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 54

Rotten Tomatoes: 68 percent

  • Movie
  • 130 minutes