Is it a Quantum Field Generator or a a Soul Forge? It's both, and that's why 'Thor: The Dark World,' like 'Thor' before it, is one of the best films that blends sci-fi and fantasy. Add the humor, star charisma and nods to the wider Marvel Movie Universe and you've got 120 minutes of straight-up nerdy glee. If dorky blood flows through your veins, you will love this movie.

Something called the Aether is flowing within Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the left-behind gal pal of the chiseled, blonde Norse legend/space creature Thor (Chris Hemsworth) - he who swings a mighty hammer and melts hearts with a smile. The Aether is a gooey plasma of evil, or something, which is hidden “between the realms,” but winds up getting absorbed by our curiosity-prone scientist. If nefarious Malekith and his Dark Elves get ahold of Jane and the Aether at the right time (now, wouldn't you know) and the right place (Earth, naturally) it will mean doom for everyone.

Thus Thor must take Jane to Asgard. While getting checked out by an other-worldly physician (played by Alice Krige, the Borg Queen, my fellow nerdlingers!) a crazy 3D projection of sparkly cells hovers above Jane's body. The Earther and Alien share a little banter over what to call it (even when facing a grave medical threat, Portman's Foster sticks to her guns and says it is a Quantum Field Generator) but no matter what you call it, it's a great deal of fun.

The special effect – to linger on this one perfect moment from the film a bit longer – resembles the silvery projections that were all over Krypton in this summer's 'Man of Steel.' It's hard not to compare the two films, as they are so similar and yet so different. The DC movies are big and brooding. 'Thor: The Dark World,' despite equally high stakes (and even the sacrifice of a supporting character) manages to stay light. The conclusion of 'Man of Steel' rained death from above. The conclusion of 'Thor: The Dark World' features funny, anarchic zips between parallel universes and near-madcap one-liners. Both styles have their merit.

The Hemsworth-Portman scenes work best. As in the first film these lovers from two worlds are blazing with an unquantifiable X-factor. There is no finer love story, which usually feels shoehorned, in any recent superhero movie. Kat Dennings as Dr. Foster's assistant (and Jonathan Howard as the assistant's assistant) are terrific as comic relief, though the big spectacle of this all is already pretty goofy. The Dark Elves' siege of Asgard is a well-executed display of crazy-looking ships, warriors in helmets, lasers blasting out of staffs and hand grenades that suck its victims into miniature black holes. It is top-shelf lunacy. The action kinda resembles 'The Phantom Menace' a little bit, but I mean that completely in a good way.

Not everything is perfect. Malekith is a bit flat as a villain, but I think this is in service of keeping Loki front and center. The two brothers work side-by-side (part of an elaborate escape, which is edited together like a caper film) and Tom Hiddleston once again sinks his teeth into the role. Also, Sif and the Warriors Three really take a back seat this time. As anecdotal evidence I took a guest to 'Thor: The Dark World' who had not seen the first one, and she did not pick up that Volstagg was all that important to the Thor mythos.

The trade-off, however, is a film packed with other cool stuff. There are rock creatures and quick trips to lands like Vanaheim and Svartalfheim and Natalie Portman wearing a cloak. Plus the Aether and Nine Realms Convergence, which I'll need a moment with the Marvel Wiki to fully understand, looks pretty damn cool.

For every lovably turgid, portentous moment that Anthony Hopkins' Odin babbles about destiny, trickster Loki presents a secret passageway with a “ta-da!” 'Thor: The Dark World' is everything I want out of a movie starring a handsome God in a red cape.


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