Archive for November, 2013

Grabbers (2012)

Director: Jon Wright

Starring: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey

Getting drunk never solves anything, or so that’s the line we’ve always been fed. Sometimes, it’s just a means to an end, a tool to bring a social gathering together. That can result in a lot of fun. There is a dark side to drinking too much, of course, nonetheleast of which is death from alcohol poisoning. Cheerful thought, isn’t it? There are other factors, too. Drinking and driving is a criminally stupid idea. Certainly, drinking to forget your problems can be futile, considering that they’ll usually be waiting for you when you sober up. But, say that there are alien sea monsters from hell trying to break down your doors and kill you. Wouldn’t that be an incentive to get sloshed?

The residents of a remote Irish island encounter this problem when they find several dead whales washing ashore, after which people start disappearing. Garda Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle) is breaking in a new partner, Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). O’Shea is an alcoholic, and his partner’s disapproval of his habit isn’t drawing the two any closer. The whale corpses present a problem for them to investigate, and soon the sad mess is attributed to large, tentacled monsters which the town drunk, upon inexplicably escaping, has dubbed “Grabbers.” Reasoning that it was the alcohol in his system which saved him, O’Shea convinces everyone that their only hope for survival is to get loaded.

If this sounds like an hilarious premise for a movie, well, it is. But it almost wasn’t. The first half of this movie had me a bit worried. I forgave the fact that the monster wasn’t shown outright even though we knew damn well what it was going to be. The greatest monster movies work best when you don’t see much of the terror that is backing the cast members into a corner before it moves in for the kill. However, the bland, unmemorable dialogue of those first 45 minutes wasn’t doing the picture any favors. It’s once the idea comes about that alcohol will repel and possibly kill the monsters that “Grabbers” does exactly what it set out to do: entertain. Like the movie itself, the best character in “Grabbers” …that being Lisa Nolan… gets funnier once she starts drinking. Seeing as how she’s been the uptight career-minded character up to this point, it’s not too surprising to see her become more inebriated than anyone else, given her low tolerance for alcohol. She’s a cute drunk.

It can be said that, if you’ve seen one monster movie, you’ve seen them all. There is usually only a handful of ways these stories can play themselves out. That’s why the direction that “Grabbers” takes is so refreshing. Diuretics have been used as the weakness of other monsters before, but this is the first time I can recall booze being the thing that the heroes use to fight back. The movie’s second half is so perversely amusing that I would not have been shocked to hear Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” playing inside the pub. Had the first half been as fun, I could easily bestow upon “Grabbers” the title of “instant classic.” You don’t have to be drunk to have fun with this movie, but it would be like if my parents had watched the original run of TV’s “Twin Peaks” without a cup of Joe and a slice of pie. The ritual enhances the experience, and makes you feel like a participant in the proceedings.

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Slither (2006)

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier

Earth can be a lonely enough place as it is. Imagine if you were the only one of your kind among a collection of other organisms. That doesn’t seem to leave much room to find common ground. Making any kind of a connection would be close to impossible without forcing the issue. Every creature acts according to his/her/its own nature. Some live according to the code of “survival of the fittest.”

In South Carolina, the town of Wheelsy is hosting its annual Deer Cheer celebration, after which deer hunting season is to be underway. Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks) is in attendance, as is Sherriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion). While the festivities are going on, Starla’s husband, Grant (Michael Rooker), is out fooling around in the woods with a waitress from a bar when they come upon a meteorite. It’s Grant’s bad luck that the space rock carried with it a parasite which quickly attaches itself to him, taking over his body. Later, Grant infects the waitress, making her host to hundreds upon hundreds of slug-like beings which enter through the mouth and attach themselves to the brainstem. Soon, Starla, Bill, and a couple of other survivors are left to fend for themselves against a town full of former citizens-turned-zombies who’ve all been made a part of Grant’s collective consciousness.

Timing is everything. In an era where horror movies are as gory as they’ve ever been, the horror comedy genre has been in short supply. In 2006, it was practically extinct apart from films by Troma Entertainment, the notorious low budget independent film studio. The career of writer/director James Gunn began with that company (he wrote “Tromeo and Juliet”), and he has never forgotten about his roots. It’s safe to say that Gunn knows a little something about satire. For example, the southern accents are so exaggerated in “Slither” that they could destroy any film trying to take itself seriously. Unfortunately, his first directorial effort was paid very little attention, disappearing from theaters without making so much as a dent in the box office. Many who did give it a look slammed the film for being a “rip-off,” citing 1986’s “Night of the Creeps” as the film being plagiarized.

While I admit that “Night of the Creeps” is an easy comparison to make, James Gunn insists that his main most direct influences were “The Brood” and “Shivers,” both directed by David Cronenberg. The 1982 remake of “The Thing” by John Carpenter, itself a film about an alien with the ability to become everyone, should also be counted. Gunn made that clear when he named the town’s mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), after the Kurt Russell character from “The Thing.” I’ve just realized that “Slither” is where I first saw actor Gregg Henry, who also starred in “Body Double.”

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that James Gunn is an Air Supply fan. He wrote the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake, which includes the song “All Out of Love” as elevator music. For “Slither,” Gunn chose “Every Woman in the World” as Grant and Starla’s love song. As someone who is fond of taking classic, sweet pop songs and juxtaposing them against scenes of bloody mayhem, this is right up my alley. That said, this does sometimes have the side effect of forever altering one’s perception of the song in question.

Beyond the satire, what attracted me to “Slither” from the beginning was the casting of Nathan Fillion. Still a couple of years away from being cast in the lead role of the TV crime drama series “Castle,” Fillion was mostly known for playing Malcolm Reynolds in the TV series “Firefly” and the follow-up movie, “Serenity.” What made Malcolm Reynolds such a great character was A) the witty dialogue written by Joss Whedon and B) Mal being caught somewhere in-between smart and dumb. Sherriff Bill Pardy may not benefit from the writing of Joss Whedon, but he also is a character that isn’t quite smart, but isn’t entirely dumb, either. Fillion provides some of the most natural reactions to alien encounters I’ve ever seen. Particularly hilarious is his response to the possessed spitting some kind of green goo that burns human skin on contact.

From “Dawn of the Dead” to “Slither” (to probably a few other movies I haven’t as yet figured out that he wrote), James Gunn has done a lot to impress me, and soon he’ll be taking it a step further. He’s about to join the Marvel Comics Universe. On August 1, 2014, “Guardians of the Galaxy” will hit theaters. Michael Rooker will be part of the cast, as will Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Karen Gillan of “Doctor Who” fame, among others. I was already intrigued, and intent on seeing it as I have been the other Marvel Comics films, but now that I’ve been made aware that it is the director of “Slither” who is in charge of the project, that movie cannot be released soon enough. Making a connection is not easy, but James Gunn made one with me, and it has taken hold.

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Starring: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott

The last three generations of Americans have all been witness to an unspeakable national tragedy, each of which is often accompanied with the phrase, “You’ll always remember where you were when…” For my parents’ generation, that event was the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963. No one who lived that day will ever forget where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Men and women alike openly wept, and wondered how and why a thing like this could ever happen. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions of those present at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on that fateful day. I think of the children (who would now be in their 50’s or early 60’s) accompanying their parents to see the President in person, scarred for life by the sight of his gory demise. That thought disturbs me as much as the violent footage provided by the Zapruder film. I also think of the Secret Service agents. How does one cope with failing to protect the Leader of the Free World?

1993’s “In the Line of Fire” catches up with one Secret Service agent who, then a man in his 20’s,  heard the first shot and failed to react in time to put himself in the path of the fatal bullet. Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), now in his 50’s, is still haunted by his past failure. Despite this, Frank remains an active agent, the only one left out of those who were guarding Kennedy. When a new plot to kill the current President presents itself in the form of Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), Frank becomes obsessive in his pursuit of the cunning assassin. His younger superiors don’t trust him, especially when he causes the Commander-in-Chief embarrassment in front of live TV cameras by overreacting to the sound of a popping balloon. You’d think that erring on the side of caution would be more greatly appreciated.

Leary is the one responsible for the balloon incident, although no one has any idea until later when he makes a phone call to Frank. one of many. Leary is no dummy. He knows that every single call he makes is being monitored, and he doesn’t care. Among other things, he is a master of disguise. The calls can be traced, but how do the Secret Service ever expect to catch him when he always has a different appearance? When talking of his plan to kill the President, he cites both Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, saying that Booth had more style. This is clearly a sick individual, one who feels betrayed by someone or something, but also clear is his intelligence, his determination, and his efficiency in the taking of a life.

John Malkovich is effective as Mitch Leary. He can present himself as calm and collective, but can also appear unhinged when the right buttons are pushed. In portraying both sides of his character, Malkovich delivers a haunting performance. He is easily the best part of this movie. In most other areas, “In the Line of Fire” is a rather ordinary thriller. Even Clint Eastwood is average. He seems to be playing essentially the same part he’d been playing since the first “Dirty Harry” movie in 1971, that of the justice-seeker who feels disrespect from his superiors and disgust for the system. The difference here is that he is older, weary, and cannot let go of the past. “In the Line of Fire” also marks the last movie which Eastwood starred in that he did not direct until 2012’s “Trouble with the Curve.”

A recurring line through the film sees Leary asking Frank, “Are you willing to take a bullet, or is life too precious?” This is a question Frank may not quite have an answer for, and that’s the one thing that has bothered him for 30 years about his failure in Dallas. Clashing with Leary has provided Frank with a chance for redemption, to silence the demons once and for all. Likewise, the movie itself seems to have been made by and for Americans still deeply affected by Kennedy’s death. Nothing will ever truly heal the wounds created by the loss of a President. Not even time itself can do that, let alone a mostly forgettable movie. But, if even a small amount of relief can be gained from the escape provided by the cinema, achieved vicariously through the hero’s need to atone, then “In the Line of Fire” cannot be said to be devoid of merit. It’s the rewatchability factor that this one lacks.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant

The late 1960’s were a pivotal period in American history. Here was a decade where everything seemed to be happening all at once. You had a Presidential assassination, Man venturing into outer space, the Vietnam War, the hippie counterculture and, with it, arguably the greatest music since the days of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, etc. Also going on during this time was the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, we were a century removed from the time of the Civil War, but African Americans were still being treated unequally, as 3/5 of a person or less. This practice was especially prevalent in the South. Segregation went as far as to create separate bathrooms and water fountains. Prominent universities refused to admit students of color, and you couldn’t ride at the front of a bus unless you were white. If a black man struck a white man, he could get shot and no one would bat an eyelash, to say nothing of what would be done if there were murder involved. God help him if he became intimately involved with a white girl.

“In the Heat of the Night” was made during a time when race relations in the South were still dangerously ugly, and the movie’s plot reflects this fact. Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a homicide detective from Pennsylvania, is arrested for carrying an abnormally large amount of money in his wallet while waiting a train to take him home from Sparta, Mississippi after a visit with his mother. Virgil is black, and his arresting officer, Sam Wood (Warren Oates), believes that any black man with that amount of money on him must have stolen it. Sam’s superior officer, Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), has a murder case to solve. A man who was going to turn the entire community around with a new factory is the stiff, and Gillespie can’t see past his own prejudices long enough not to jump to the conclusion that Virgil must be the murderer. Virgil whips out his badge, and initially refuses to help with the investigation when asked, but is convinced otherwise when he has Gillespie call his chief to confirm his status as a detective.

Despite being one of THE great crime dramas, the movie has less to do with solving a murder than it does with the relationship between its leads. Here are two men who, when they first meet, allow the barriers created by the southern American society to cloud their perceptions of one another. Slowly, both Tibbs and Gillespie begin to realize as they work together on the murder case that, despite the obvious difference in their skin pigmentation, the two have even more in common than just their chosen line of work. Tibbs and Gillespie both live lonely lives, and they both also feel unwanted by this backwards southern community.

That a black man and a white man could find a commonality and a reason to work together might not seem unusual now (we currently have a black President and white Vice President), but it wasn’t something you saw much of in 1967, certainly not in the movies. Sadly, the segregation of the races was not the only persecution going on in those times. The Cold War had made an entire nation afraid of Communism (much in the same way we see a terrorist around every corner today). As a result, many people, including Hollywood actors, were not exempt from being labeled as social pariahs. One unfortunate casualty of the Hollywood blacklist was actress Lee Grant, who plays Leslie Colbert, the widow of the murder victim in “In the Heat of the Night.” Refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities led to Grant being unable to find work in theater or film for twelve years.

The 1967 Oscar winner for Best Picture has a lot going for it, but for me there are two scenes in particular which stand out. One involves another instance of someone whose aversion to those called by the not-so nice N-word is turned around by getting to know Virgil. Harvey Oberst has been picked up on suspicion of having committed the murder of Mr. Colbert, but Virgil doesn’t believe it possible based on prior evidence gathered while examining the body. He has refused to give up that evidence, and has been locked in the same cell with Harvey. Tibbs opens up to Harvey, lets him get comfortable, and listens to him tell his story about where he was on the night in question. Even at this early stage in his career, actor Scott Wilson (whom “The Walking Dead” fans have come to know and love as Hershel Greene) had a natural way of speaking that just makes you smile.

The other scene that is most impressive is the greenhouse scene. Tibbs and Gillespie have gone up to the large estate of Eric Endicott, about as racist an individual in the town of Sparta as you will find. He is courteous at first, showing off his plants and offering lemonade refreshments, but the conversation turns ugly when it’s revealed that the reason the officers have paid him a visit is that they are following up on a lead in their investigation. When Tibbs tries to interrogate Endicott, Endicott slaps him. Now, here’s where things get serious. Without missing a beat, Tibbs returns the slap. The first time I saw “In the Heat of the Night” in my community college Film Studies class, I knew without having to be told that I’d just witnessed one of the major turning points in cinematic history. The shock that scene had to have generated at the time, whether positive or negative, is something that might get lost on modern audiences.

I’d like to think that the United States as a whole have come a long way from the days of segregation, but the truth is that prejudice survives to this day. President Barack Obama, for all of his flaws, has been hit with a lot of undeserved criticism with no basis in reality. Don’t get me started on the “birther” stuff. Even now, there are places in this country where a young black man can be killed, and his death can be spun as somehow being his fault. But if the story presented in “In the Heat of the Night” is any indication, for all of the bad apples of society, there are still those willing to open their eyes and recognize that, after all, everybody’s human.

Duel (1971)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Dennis Weaver

There are a lot of maniacs out there on the road. All you want to do is get from your house to where you’re going without incident, but you can always rely on someone getting behind the wheel of a car and endangering the lives of all who cross their path. Who knows why they behave the way they do. It could be that they’re just stupid teenagers who like to drive as fast as their car will let them. Perhaps they’ve had a bad day, or they have a long way to go and no time to waste sitting behind traffic. Maybe you’ve set them off with an ill-conceived hand/finger gesture. Maybe they have a diabetic condition, or maybe they’re just drunk. Or, maybe, they might be a crazy person who is intent on killing you with their vehicle.

One particular madman’s intended victim is David Mann (Dennis Weaver), a California salesman who is driving down a two-lane highway with a meeting to attend. David will never reach that meeting. Instead, he’s about to spend his day trying not to be run off the road in his red 1971 Plymouth Valiant by an enormous tanker truck. When he first encounters the truck, he comes up behind it, but is blocked every time he tries to make a pass. Once, the driver of the truck gives him the signal to pass, but David only has seconds to react to keep from plowing head-on into an oncoming car. This guy, David knows, is more than just playing around with him. This guy means to murder him.

“Duel” was originally broadcast in the United States as a made-for-television movie. It was the first feature-length movie to be directed by Steven Spielberg. Yeah, that guy really didn’t do much else with his career… In all seriousness, this movie (which is essentially one long 90-minute car chase sequence), shares much in common with one of the bigger financial successes of Spielberg’s long career, 1975’s “Jaws.” Both feature Hitchcockian soundtracks, this one by Billy Goldenberg (“Duel” is actually one of only two Spielberg films with someone other than John Williams as the score’s composer), and both see the everyman hunted by a ruthless predator. As stated, it was first a TV-movie, but when later released theatrically, the existing 74-minute print was deemed not long enough. Spielberg had to go back and shoot new scenes, including a new opening and terrifying scenes involving a school bus, a telephone booth and a railroad crossing. The latter two are some of the best scenes in the movie.

My two favorite scenes are just as intense. One occurs just after David has been run off the road and has struck a wooden fence, giving him a slight case of whiplash. He’s gone into the diner to cool off, but when he looks out the window he sees that the truck is parked just outside. This must mean that the man who has been chasing him has to be inside the diner with him! We follow David’s line of sight as he checks out all the patrons, hoping to find something familiar about their clothing as he’s never seen his assailant’s face. We know he’s not crazy, but we also know that there’s not a soul in that diner who has any reason to think otherwise. My other favorite scene comes when David is trying desperately to coax his car into climbing a hill. The radiator hose that he should have taken care of early on in his highway trek is now failing him. David’s helplessness is magnified by a great usage of wide-angle lens shots.

Dennis Weaver is remembered best for his role as Chester Goode, sidekick to James Arness’s Matt Dillon on the TV western series “Gunsmoke.” His turn as David Mann, a man who isn’t even the master of his own household yet must now learn how to survive on the road, is equally impressive. The 2001 horror movie “Jeepers Creepers” saw actors Justin Long and Gina Phillips playing a brother and sister duo involved in a scenario similar to that of David Mann’s plight… that is until the true nature of the driver is revealed. Smartly, we are never shown the driver nor given any hint as to his motivations in “Duel.” All we have to go on is that he has picked out David specifically, and a hint provided by the multiple license plates on the truck that, whomever this guy is, he has very likely done this to others before. Spielberg crafted the most imposing of all his villainous characters with the 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck. This is because it’s the most realistic. You’re more likely to encounter a truck like this in your daily life than you would be a Great White shark, aliens or dinosaurs. What’s more, the person behind the wheel is human, and human monsters are the scariest of all.

Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Judge Reinhold, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Keye Luke, Howie Mandel, Frank Welker

New pets really should come with instructions. Even then, I fear, these guidelines would inevitably be either misunderstood or ignored completely. Then comes the overfeeding, the sour disposition towards other animals, and the general terrorization of the neighborhood. The small, furry creatures known as Mogwai are no exception, as one small town in “Gremlins” finds out, as the taking in of one of these creatures requires unique responsibility. The world’s worst inventor, Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) tries to sell one of his latest malfunctioning creations to an old man (Keye Luke) who has a shop in Chinatown. There, Randall finds a box containing a creature called a mogwai. There are three special rules to follow when handling a mogwai:
1) Keep them out of the light, as it will kill them, 2) Don’t get them wet, and 3) Never feed them after midnight.

There’s a problem with rules 2 and 3, and it is that they are unfortunately vague. Had Randall been told why mogwai should never be allowed near water or why they can’t be given anything to eat after 12:00 AM, a lot of what happens next could have been avoided. Randall’s reason for wanting the mogwai (which the old man refuses to sell, but the grandson does behind his back) is to give it to his son, Billy (Zach Galligan) as an early Christmas present. Billy is your typical wimpy teenager, working a boring bank job that is as thankless as it is boring. Sometimes, it’s even abusive, especially when the meanest old lady in town, Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday, doing her best Margaret Hamilton impersonation) comes in to make a withdrawal, all the while bullying Billy about his dog. He tolerates it, as the job does mean spending time with Kate (Phoebe Cates). He’s not the only one who feels that way. Their co-worker, Gerald (Judge Reinhold), has his eye on Kate, too. Sorry Gerald, but she’s not interested. Probably should stick to fantasizing about her removing her bathing suit in front of you while you’re doing your business. Oops! Right actors, wrong movie. But “Gremlins” is all about making references to other movies.

For the record, appearing in “Gremlins” are: The theatrical poster for “The Road Warrior” (1981), a poster that is a play on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981),  TV presentations of “To Please a Lady” (1950), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), Robbie the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” (1956), a reference to the hiding of a certain extra-terrestrial among a pile of toys in “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) (which this time includes an E.T. doll), and a marvelous setpiece inside a movie theater playing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). We even get cameos from Steven Spielberg and animator Chuck Jones!

Inevitably, the rules for the mogwai are broken, although mostly by accident. The one that Billy receives is named Gizmo (on account of the father being an inventor), and this cuddly creature is voiced by Howie Mandel. Billy’s friend Pete (Corey Feldman) is the one who accidentally spills water on Gizmo, creating five new mogwai. FELDMAN! One of the new mogwai has a strip of white hair on his head, which earns him the name of Stripe, voiced by Frank Welker. If you watched any cartoons that have been made since 1969, the odds are good that you’ve heard Welker’s voice on several occasions. Remember, there’s still that 3rd rule, and the new mogwai trick Billy into feeding them after midnight. Afterwards, with Stripe as their leader, they change into the Gremlins. Chaos is the name of their game.

Like the Gremlins themselves, the movie assumes different forms. It can be at times a black comedy and a horror movie. The scene where Billy’s mom (Frances Lee McCain) is attacked by the newly transformed Gremlins starts out like a slasher movie chase sequence, but isn’t played entirely serious. Some of the Gremlins’ deaths in this movie are enough to break the tension and make you laugh out loud, particularly in this scene when Billy’s mom fights back. The same can be said for when the Gremlins take out a few of the movie’s secondary characters. “Gremlins” also has a truly awkward moment when Kate finally establishes why she doesn’t share everyone else’s Christmas spirit. It’s a scene that executive producer Steven Spielberg didn’t like (which I kinda agree), but also didn’t press Joe Dante to cut it out of the movie. As serious as this moment was, the original version of the movie (written by Chris Columbus) was much creepier. For one, the character of Stripe was originally supposed to be what Gizmo transforms into upon eating after midnight, but it was decided that audiences might react negatively to seeing Gizmo turn against Billy. Good call. We’d be venturing into “Old Yeller” territory if they went there.

“Gremlins” created quite a legacy for itself. The box office dollars it earned rained down on Hollywood like water spilled onto a mogwai, spawning both a sequel and several knock-offs, most of which are terrible. I still haven’t seen “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” It’s just one of those movies which I keep meaning to get around to, but never have. In 1984, along with the Spielberg-directed “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Gremlins,” rated PG, was a movie that blurred the lines between the existing PG and R ratings to the point that the PG-13 rating would be created later that same year. I’ve never been one for the schmaltzy Christmas movies of yesteryear, so I’ll always admire “Gremlins” for being the kind of movie that puts a dark spin on everyone’s favorite holiday.

Thor - The Dark World (2013)

Director: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo

Man has long wondered whether there is life elsewhere resembling our own. Two years ago, in “Thor,” Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and others found the answer in bearing witness to the arrival of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from the realm of Asgard. We also saw in that movie the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, but there were still six other worlds left unrevealed to us. The one thing I had hoped a sequel would bring is more information on the Nine Realms. In this and other areas, “Thor: The Dark World” does not disappoint.

The theme of “sins of the father” is once again explored, only this time it is not Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who kept a secret that is destined to cause grief for all Asgardians. Odin’s father, Bor, once led the charge against the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, believing to have wiped out the entire race, not realizing that their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and a few of his men had escaped destruction. Malekith’s great weapon, an invulnerable substance known as the Aether, was good to use only when the Nine Realms were in alignment. Bor stopped Malekith from using the Aether just in time, hiding it somewhere out of sight and out of mind. The catch is that Bor told his people that he’d destroyed it, when in fact he’d known this to be impossible. Thus, the current generation believes themselves safe even as the next alignment draws near, causing little pockets that allow people and objects to move back and forth between the worlds. Jane Foster accidentally slips through one of these pockets to find herself on Svartalfheim, and unwittingly becoming host to the Aether.

The fish-out-of-water scenario is flipped on its head, as Thor takes Jane with him to Asgard. Thor is hoping to find some way of removing the Aether from Jane’s body and destroying it before it destroys her. Jane doesn’t have much time to marvel at her surroundings before the situation becomes dire, although we do. With the changing of directors from Kenneth Branagh to Alan Taylor, Asgard assumes a much different look from the brilliantly colored world of two years ago. Here, it looks much more medieval, like something out of “The Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” (the latter of which has seen Taylor direct several episodes). Also, Natalie Portman pulls off the Asgardian look quite nicely. Just sayin’.

As in both “Thor” and “The Avengers,” Chris Hemsworth’s greatest chemistry is with Tom Hiddleston. As the ever mischievous Loki, Hiddleston is to “Thor” what Norman Reedus is to TV’s “The Walking Dead.” He has achieved such a fan following that his is the one character everyone hopes will continue to stick around. I must remember to catch Hiddleston’s portrayal of “Henry V” the next time it comes around on PBS, because he’s just a brilliant actor.

With the knowledge that Marvel Studios is a movie-making machine with a set plan in motion (and with films soon to be released in 2014 and 2015), these stories can place Earth in danger with the assurance that it will never meet its end at the hands of the bad guys. Malekith, we know, will fare no better than the Chitauri from “The Avengers” did before him. What keeps the plot moving is not in how it will turn out, but in how we will get there and what must be sacrificed to make it so. There is darkness, there is despair, and there are lives lost along the way. Countering this, much of the humor that made the first film so much fun is still here, especially in the banter between Thor and Loki, as well as from Jane’s intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), one of my favorite characters from either “Thor” movie. As always, one will want to stay through the end credits. There is both a mid-credits scene, acting as a set-up for a future film (I’ll not reveal which one), as well as a short post-credits scene.

For now, I still prefer the first “Thor,” but “Dark World” is a worthy sequel. I’ll have to see this one again to know exactly how I feel about it. Some critics have accused the film of getting lost in the back-and-forth between the different realms, but I get the feeling they don’t understand Thor at all. As a being from another world, he shouldn’t be confined to just having Earthbound adventures. “Thor: The Dark World” proves how much fun the Nine Realms can be, and I hope that any future solo films for the God of Thunder will give us even more of the realms we’ve seen, as well as the few that remain unseen.