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<p>Chris Hemsworth returns as the main character in Thor: The Dark World.</p>

Chris Hemsworth returns as the main character in Thor: The Dark World.

Let’s take a moment here at the top for Tom Hiddleston. He was not terribly well-known in the U.S. before playing Loki in the first Thor back in 2011, but he was the best thing about that movie. He may have stolen The Avengers, and improves everything about the entertainingly empty Thor: The Dark World.

The bottom line is, he’s the best thing the Marvel movies have going for them outside of Robert Downey, Jr.

The mischievous Loki is not a central figure in The Dark World, though Marvel is obviously building for the long game with him. But whenever this film needs a boost, Hiddleston makes it happen. That is one of the problems of building a film around a colossus, be it Thor or Superman: Chris Hemsworth is indeed good and sturdy again as Odin’s hammer-swinging son, but it gets so serious and boring watching him save everything all the time without breaking a sweat. We need Loki’s dark humor to break the monotony.

As for the specifics of the story, they barely register. Some unspeakable evil that was buried and hidden 5,000 years ago resurfaces when Thor’s mortal girlfriend (super scientist Natalie Portman) stumbles onto it through a portal in an English warehouse. Which is the last place you’d look, obviously. And then we get effects-laden battle scenes, much to no one’s surprise.

The sequel surpasses the first movie, saddled as it was with a difficult origin story. Thor: The Dark World moves fast and is light on its feet. There are notes of humor in good places, maybe a few too many if you took this sort of thing seriously. But Marvel learned a great lesson making The Avengers: Don’t worry about it. Just blow shit up and make ‘em laugh now and then and let Batman do the brooding.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston. Directed by Alan Taylor. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes. Opens Friday.