By Tyler Hersko

Forget Batman. While 2008’s “The Dark Knight” may have been a cinematic masterpiece and a prime factor in the resurgence of the Caped Crusader’s popularity, it was “Iron Man” that truly put superhero media back on the radar.

The film was a major critical and commercial success, and it paved the way for the 2012 behemoth “Marvel’s The Avengers.” The film franchise, coined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has become such a prominent force of today’s entertainment culture that it’s a herculean task in itself to find anyone who hasn’t seen a Marvel superhero movie.

Of course, Iron Man isn’t the only Avenger. Reboots featuring The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor were released prior to “Marvel’s The Avengers,” but none enjoyed the same level of success as that of the self-titled “genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.”

Though none of the films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are actively bad — except for “Iron Man 3,” which managed to gross an ungodly $1.2 billion anyway — they largely paled in comparison to the first “Iron Man” and “Marvel’s The Avengers.”

“Captain America: The First Avenger” did little to challenge the clichés and claims of one-dimensionality that surround its overly patriotic protagonist. “The Incredible Hulk,” on the other hand, suffered from an overly slow pace and an ambiguity surrounding the Hulk’s temperament.

And then there was “Thor.” Despite starring arguably the least relatable of the Marvel characters, “Thor” proved to be one of the better films in the franchise. Two years have passed and “Thor: The Dark World” is now in theatres.

While the “Iron Man” sequels’ lack of coherency and underwhelming antagonists made for disappointing cinema, Thor’s second film is an almost universal improvement upon the original. It isn’t the best film in the franchise, but it hardly feels like filler for the next full-fledged Avenger’s movie.

With that said, the earlier acts of “Thor: The Dark World’s” require the consumption of several grains of salt. Though it’d be unfair to pan a film featuring an alien god from Norse mythology for requiring a sense of disbelief, the Aether weapon and the Convergence, which serve as the film’s primary plot points, require more detachment than should be necessary.

Explaining either the Aether or the Convergence is an exercise in futility. Their existence and the paper-thin motives of Malekith, the film’s primary antagonist — he wants to destroy the universe because it’s too bright — serve as an excuse to free the imprisoned Loki and allow Thor to smash things with his hammer.

Despite all of their super-powered antics, the Marvel films are grounded in relative realism. It’s a shame that “Thor: The Dark World” strays so far from this, but if you can look past the ill-conceived concept, there is plenty to enjoy.

The film picks up where “Marvel’s The Avengers” left off. While the genocidal Malekith and the romantic subplot featuring Jane Foster may appear in center stage, it’s the tension between Thor and Loki that deliver the film’s most powerful and comedic moments.

While the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, who portray Thor and Foster, respectively, both deserve praise, it is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki that ultimately steals the show. Hiddleston plays a charismatic sociopathic perfectly.

It’s rare to see a villain given so much attention and detail after being defeated, as Loki was in “Marvel’s The Avengers.” The result is a thoroughly intriguing and exciting series of exchanges and plot twists that is rarely seen in action films, superhero or otherwise, these days.

Though Earth is unfortunately ignored for much of the movie, the expanded canon regarding Asgard and Thor is much appreciated and does a commendable job of giving a very human aspect to a distinctly alien world. While perhaps a tad too heavy on the exposition for casual audiences, it’s hardly as plodding as “Man of Steel” or “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

Malekith’s motives may be idiotic, but they do lend themselves to fairly entertaining action scenes. While the film takes some time to get going, watching Nordic warriors wage war with demented Dark Elves is never trite due to all the bombastic effects afforded by Marvel Studios. Thanks to the witty dialogue, interplay between leading characters and a series of memorable plot twists, the action never comes across as brainless, nor do the shallow plot devices ruin the overall film.

Decades from now, nobody will remember “Thor: The Dark World.” It’s not a redefinition of superhero cinema like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was, nor will it convert detractors of previous Marvel films.

That being said, it’s a thoroughly entertaining movie that should please the franchise’s legion fan base. At the very least, it proves that Iron Man isn’t the only Marvel hero that can tell an entertaining, action-packed story.

Tyler Hersko can be reached at thersko@