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Fantastic Thor: "The Dark World" doesn't disappoint (Blu-ray review)

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Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman

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Thousands of years ago, the dark elves sought to turn the universe back into eternal night by using a dangerous weapon called the aether - an ancient force of infinite destruction. In the heat of battle, an Asgardian army stole the aether and buried it, which led to the supposed destruction of the dark elves and brought about a period of peace. Cut to present day. Back on Asgard, Loki (Hiddleston) is being held prisoner - captive for the crimes he committed in "The Avengers." Thor (Hemsworth), the God of Thunder, himself, is off saving the universe yet again, but he is having a hard time completely focusing his thoughts, thanks to his lingering crush on his human girlfriend, Jane Foster (Portman). And meanwhile on Earth, Jane and her scientist friends discover a gravitational anomaly with catastrophic repercussions. Coinsiding with this discovery is a time known on Asgard as "the convergence" - a cosmic event that happens once every 5,000 years where the nine realms align, blurring borders between worlds and throwing physics into chaos. The mythological mess spins Asgard into disarray and forces Thor to seek help from an unlikely ally.

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The Breakdown:

Since "The Avengers" raised the bar for superhero movies in 2012, Marvel has had to ratchet things up a couple notches on almost every level. "Thor: The Dark World" doesn't disappoint, presenting a much more gripping story than its predecessor (thanks, no doubt, in large part to Thor's wild popularity in "The Avengers"), and audiences should have a much easier time forming a connection with the movie's characters and their respective extraterrestrial worlds. The Thor sequel is much less about "oh-my-gosh-Chris-Hemsworth-is-so-hot" and more about a deepened storyline inside the ever-expanding Marvel universe. Hemsworth steps up his performance from the first "Thor" and does a great job, but it's really Hiddleston who steals the show from about the hour mark on. Loki is no longer the weakling of a bad guy that he so closely resembled in the two previous films. Now, he's a full-on superstar. Though not physically imposing, his quick-witted dialogue and dark sense of humor really put Loki in the spotlight for much of the show. The most surprising aspect of "The Dark World" is how genuinely funny it is. The second half of the movie offers a handful of laugh-out-loud moments that should be appreciated by audiences of all ages. Finally, the special effects are superb, especially when the action shifts to Asgard. The battle scenes are amazing, the elves are freaky, and the aerial fight scenes are a thrill.

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The Verdict:

"Thor: The Dark World" is an obvious improvement from the original "Thor" film (really - head and shoulders) and is right on pace with the white-knuckle pace of "The Avengers," making it, arguably, the best stand-alone Marvel movie yet. (Its only real competition would be awesome debut of Iron Man, which kicked off the "Avengers" arc back in 2008.) "The Dark World" may not have been the best movie of 2013, but it was definitely one of the most enjoyable. A remarkable story, great action, and a surprising dose of humor - plus more bonus features than you'll know what to do with - absolutely make this movie worth your time and money.

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Similar movies: "Thor" (2011), "The Avengers" (2012), "Man of Steel" (2013)

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Blu-ray bonus features:

- Audio in English, English Descriptive Audio, French, Spanish, Portuguese

- Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese

- "Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King": A short film based around the Mandarin... er... Trevor Slattery's time in prison. Stars Ben Kingsley, who reprises his infamous role from "Iron Man 3."

- "A Brother's Journey: Thor & Loki": A two-part featurette contrasting the rise of Thor and the fall of Loki in the Avengers storyline. Really, really awesome stuff.

- Exclusive Look - "Captain America: The Winter Soldier": A look forward at the next Avengers film, which hits theaters in Spring 2014.

- "Scoring 'Thor: The Dark World' with Brian Tyler": A behind-the-scenes segment showcasing the movie's soundtrack

- Six deleted/extended scenes with optional audio commentary

- Gag reel

- Optional audio commentary

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Directed by: Alan Taylor

Studio: Marvel Entertainment

Running time: 112 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 for "sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content," including inevitable glimpses of a shirtless Hemsworth, censored male nudity (obscured by pixels, used for laughs), violence by and against women, and some sci-fi dismemberment.

Costars Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Christopher Eccleston, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi

Blu-ray release date: February 25, 2014

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