Natalie Portman

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Marvel films are driven by big moments. They are the scenes that sell in the trailers, like every Avenger preparing to save New York from an alien invasion, or a thousand Iron Man suits showing up to defend Tony Stark. What makes these moments so satisfying is the way the film sets them up and the journey that’s taken our heroes to that climactic point.

In “Thor: The Dark World,” director Alan Taylor excels at creating those big moments. Taylor was plucked from a job on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and his handle on medieval imagery makes him a great fit for the “Thor” franchise. Usually TV directors are hired merely to get the script to the screen, adding visual style and leaving the storytelling to the writers. This workmanlike spirit makes Taylor both the best and worst possible director for “The Dark World,” which lumbers through its story with dutiful disinterest.

The film opens with a “Lord of the Rings”-esque info-dump, chronicling the defeat of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a dark elf with plans to take over the universe using a weapon called the Aether, which is hidden to ensure it can never be used again. Thousands of years later, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still heartsick over her brief encounter with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), stumbles onto the Aether and is infected with it, drawing Malekith out of hiding.

Hemsworth’s performance as Thor continues to carry the perfect mixture of charismatic bravado and endearing humility, and his interactions with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are among the film’s best character moments. Since his villainous turn in “The Avengers,” Loki has emerged as a fan favorite. Hiddleston is perfectly loathsome in the role, but his character is sidelined throughout. Portman, meanwhile, seems oddly content with her non-character here, existing to move the plot along and nothing more. While she’s charming enough, the non-agency of her character is equally frustrating and off-putting.

There are big moments in “The Dark World” that work, particularly the climactic barrage of fantastical imagery and inventive showdowns. Earlier action scenes manage to capture a charming “Star Wars” vibe, blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy effectively. For all of the action beats that work, the story is a complete bust.

Thor’s struggle against Malekith is a perfunctory distraction between effects-heavy moments, and every element of it is glazed over and uninspired. Malekith is uninteresting as a villain. He is a bad guy because the movie needs a bad guy, and there’s little in the way of motivation or interest for his character.

There are moments, most of them involving Loki, in which “The Dark World” intrigues, but it’s constantly undercutting itself with lackluster storytelling. Even the film’s most compelling and — had it not been spoiled in the trailers — surprising moment exists solely to give said trailers a great hook. The film’s ending is similarly underhanded, spelling out an obvious narrative endpoint in the most unsatisfying way possible.

The blame for “The Dark World” can’t be laid squarely at Taylor’s feet, but at the menagerie of writers who developed the film’s story and screenplay in the most unimaginative way possible. While the film is consistently competent, it surges to life only occasionally, and it’s sad to say this uninspired sequel is the weakest of the Marvel films to hit theaters thus far.

Texas football and Twitter: Natalie Portman ventures into new territory

Natalie Portman, the non-Texan, non-Longhorn, #twitterless actress created a buzz at the University of Texas at Austin's Darrell K. Royal stadium during the UT vs. Baylor football game.

Though it may seem like a strange PR move, some celebrities are simply not active on social media. Luckily, loyal fans did Portman's work for her on Twitter tonight.

Read a social media mashup and interactive analysis of the Natalie Portman sighting on The Daily Texan's Storify.

In the run-up to next summer’s “The Avengers,” Marvel Studios has overcome the obstacles of building audiences for a range of superheroes and casting actors entertaining enough to sustain those audiences. However, the biggest challenge lay in adapting “Thor,” a comic book somehow less realistic than the likes of “Iron Man.” And shockingly, they’ve done a halfway decent job.

We meet Thor in the mystical realm of Asgard, ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). As Thor (Chris Hemsworth) prepares to ascend to his father’s throne, an ill-advised military move causes Thor to be cast out of Asgard until he learns humility. Banished to Earth, Thor meets a scientist (Natalie Portman) and, unsurprisingly, learns to be a true hero.

Director Kenneth Branagh has usually worked in stuffy period pieces and does his best with his first foray into the superhero genre, packing the scenes set in Asgard with vibrant colors and contrasting the film’s multiple worlds with distinct visual styles. Unfortunately, Branagh also leans entirely too heavily on irritating Dutch angles, filmed at an odd slant, and weighs things down with superfluous 3-D, making the action scenes hard to decipher and adding nothing to the slower moments of the film.

Even more troubling are the bizarre comedic elements the film wallows in as Thor begins to learn the customs of Earth. While Hemsworth’s winning delivery saves a few of these moments, Branagh’s distorted sense of comedic timing makes most of them fall flat.

Large chunks of the film work thanks to Hemsworth, who made huge waves in the opening sequence of 2009’s “Star Trek” and is perhaps the most purely likable Marvel hero thus far. Much of the Asgard cast is equally strong, notably Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s nefarious brother. The Earth cast is markedly weaker. As Thor’s love interest, Portman never lets the audience forget she’s acting, while the always adorable Kat Dennings only seems to be in the film to serve as a series of “kids-these-days” punchlines about Facebook.

The film’s story is also pretty weak. Thor’s inevitable redemption never quite feels earned, rather happening because the film needed to get Thor’s hammer back before its big final battle. Thankfully, the film’s final act is its best. A lengthy sequence when one of Loki’s minions wreaks havoc on a small town is visceral and exciting, while the final confrontation in Asgard is appropriately epic.

In the end, the wildly uneven “Thor” may be nothing more than a place-setter for next summer’s “The Avengers.” But thanks to Hemsworth’s strong performance and a few great action scenes, it’s about what audiences going to see a movie about a guy beating people down with a giant hammer should expect.

David Gordon Green’s recent reinvention of his career has been nothing short of fascinating to watch. After creating a name for himself making glacially paced, poetically written indies such as “Snow Angels” and “All the Real Girls,” Green did a complete 180 and began making uproarious stoner comedies such as 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and now the absolutely ridiculous and hysterical “Your Highness.”

Things start off with Thadeous (Danny McBride) about to be executed by a kingdom of midgets and the film only gets sillier from there when he is forced to accompany his brother Fabious (James Franco) on a quest to save Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), Fabious’ fiancee who has been captured by the nefarious Leezar (Justin Theroux). Unbeknownst to the brothers, Leezar plans to use Belladonna to fulfill an especially invasive prophecy. As they quest to rescue her, they encounter a perverted wizard, a randy Minotaur and the deadly Isabel (Natalie Portman).

Obviously, a film like this lives and dies on the quality of its jokes. On this front, “Your Highness” has more hits than misses, continuing the “Pineapple Express” method of blending stoner humor, creative cursing and over-the-top violence for laughs. This is a film that may sound like it was written by a 13-year-old, but in the best way possible. It’s raunchy, unapologetic and seems endlessly entertained with itself. Even when the occasional joke flops, there are several far funnier quips quickly following it.

Most of this is thanks to the comedic persona of McBride. After making his film debut in Green’s “All the Real Girls,” McBride has been slowly honing the character he’s best known for: the cocky failure whose ego is matched only by his blissful lack of self-awareness. Coming off of another hilarious season of “Eastbound & Down,” McBride slaps on a preposterous British accent and lends every scene his trademark comedic stylings. If audiences have grown tired of McBride’s schtick, “Your Highness” may be a bit of a chore, but fans will find plenty to laugh at here.

The rest of the cast refuses to let McBride dominate the spotlight, however. Franco’s Fabious is energetic and naive, employing Franco’s goofy smile and natural comedic timing to great effect. Theroux’s detestable wizard almost steals the show, but is segregated from the rest of the cast for most of the film, asked instead to play off of Deschanel’s straight man. When Deschanel is asked to interact with the rest of the cast, she displays an uncharacteristic comedic flair, but mostly flounders in the film’s later scenes, where she’s only asked to look scared and make out with Franco. Portman, on the other hand, is great, taking the filthy, playful persona she brought to “No Strings Attached,” cranking it up, and running with the film’s often ridiculous material. It helps that Portman is given a few action scenes where she proves to be surprisingly badass.

As for director Green, he adapts well to the medieval genre — miles away from the Midwestern, poetic locations where he began making films. Green also displays an adept eye for action sequences, and manages to compose several of the epic landscape shots that defined films such as “Lord of the Rings.”

“Your Highness” is a film that almost defies the rules of logic. A big-budget stoner comedy starring a recent Oscar winner and another nominee that manages to make McBride something of an action hero. By all laws of common sense, this shouldn’t exist. And yet, here it is, in all its shamelessly dirty, hilarious glory, and this weekend, moviegoers will be all the better for it.