Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: The Dark World.

You can smell the fresh paint on the holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet highly commercialized entry in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The latest installment is a step below Kenneth Branagh’s goofy and grand first installment. While the sequel is not likely to piss off superhero-film fans, director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds, either. It’s an OK placeholder flick while we wait for the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he’s fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth.

As for bad brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who owns the role), he’s doing dungeon time in Asgard (a land seemingly named after a mini rock opera by Rush), largely because of what he did to New York City.

Things come to a head when ancient villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, who looks silly here thanks to his makeup) awakens from his slumber and seeks out a powerful dark force called the Aether. With this power harnessed, Malekith looks to cause some deep trouble during an event called the Convergence of the Nine Realms, which sounds like it could be the title of a secret third side to Yes’ Close to the Edge.

OK, I’ll stop making progressive rock jokes. 

Jane, inadvertently, gets herself involved in the universe-threatening activities, and Thor takes her to Asgard, where she meets the parents, Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). Odin wants his son to become king and marry a goddess, as most kings of the universe would want for their children. Frigga seems indifferent and happy to have some girl time.

Hiddleston might actually be out-cooling Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel universe. He’s a great talent, managing to make a malicious bastard someone who we strangely find ourselves rooting for. When Thor must call upon his nasty sibling for help in fighting Malekith, it’s one of those, “Oh, goody, goody!” moments that will have you rubbing your hands together with a sly grin on your face (perhaps confusing the person sitting next to you in the theater).

Minus Hiddleston’s excellent work, Thor: The Dark World wouldn’t be much of anything. Hemsworth is capable enough, but he’s starting to feel like more of a supporting player in the Thor movies.

I have read some fan chatter criticizing the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor, declaring that they have no real reason to be pining for each other. Here are a couple of good reasons: Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the most handsome man on Earth, and the tremendously beautiful Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster! I, for one, see no further explanation for why these two would want to see each other naked. Makes sense to me.

The credits, in keeping with Marvel tradition, contain two additional scenes—one a few moments into the credits, and another at the very end. One of them features Benicio Del Toro, and it is very weird. The other is actually the real end to this movie, so it is essential that you stick around.

As for post-Avengers Marvel movies, Iron Man 3 is far superior, because it did new things with its character and messed around with the format. Meanwhile, Thor: The Dark World, while worth seeing, is part of a franchise that has lost a bit of its heft.

Thor: The Dark World is playing at theaters across the valley.