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By Thomas Wheeler

The sequel movie THOR: THE DARK WORLD shot like a bolt of lightning from Thor's hammer into theaters in early November 2013, and quickly became the #1 movie in the world -- and deservedly so.It iis pretty much a non-stop action ride from start to finish, and it's a truly superb one.

The action figures for the movie have been unfortunately rather difficult to come by. For various reasons, two of the major retailers opted out of Thor action figures, with one of the retailers carrying only a tiny smattering of non-action-figure Thor products. I found this not only unfortunate, but deeply troubling as far as the future is concerned. There's no shortage of Marvel-based movies in the works, most of which are likely to have action figure lines attached to them. However, if the retailers continue to express disdain, one wonders if these lines will actually be produced.

Action figures from Thor: The Dark World seem to be, at least at traditional retail outlets, the exclusive purview of Toys "R" Us -- even if they're not marked as such. There are a number of online retailers carrying them, but speaking personally, I don't like to mail-order toys if I can help it. Nothing against those retailers -- I just don't like buying action figures sight unseen. I'm picky about assembly and paint jobs and such.

Anyway, let's have a look at one particular figure from this line -- THOR himself. First, some history on this latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and then on Marvel's interpretation of this character.

Thor: The Dark World was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the second Thor film following 2011's Thor and the eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film was directed by Alan Taylor, with a screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and features Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins reprising their roles from the first, with newcomers Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi and Clive Russell joining the cast.

Development of Thor: The Dark World began in April 2011, when producer Kevin Feige announced plans for a sequel to follow the crossover film The Avengers. In July 2011, Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor, withdrew from the project. Brian Kirk and Patty Jenkins were considered to direct the film before Taylor was hired in January 2012. The supporting cast filled out in August 2012, with the hiring of Eccleston, Dennings and Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Principal photography began in September 2012 in Surrey, England with filming continuing in Iceland and London, before wrapping up in December 2012.

Thor: The Dark World premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on October 22, 2013. It was released internationally on October 30, 2013, and on November 8, 2013, in the United States. The film is both critically and commercially successful, surpassing the worldwide gross of its predecessor.

In the story, eons ago, Bor, the father of Odin, clashes with the Dark Elf Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith's forces, including enhanced warriors called the Kursed, on their home world of Svartalfheim, Bor safeguards the Aether within a stone column. Unbeknownst to Bor, Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves escape into suspended animation.

In present-day Asgard, Loki stands imprisoned for his war crimes on Earth during the events of the Avengers movie. Meanwhile, Thor, alongside warriors Fandral, Volstagg and Sif, repel marauders on Vanaheim, home of their comrade Hogun; it is the final battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms following the reconstruction of Bifröst, the "Rainbow Bridge" between realms, which had been destroyed two years earlier.

In London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster's intern, Darcy Lewis, now with her own intern, Ian, takes Jane to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics and disappear into thin air. Separating from the group, Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether.

The Asgardians learn that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. As the event approaches, portals linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane's recent disappearance, leading Thor to search for her. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force, he takes her to Asgard. There, Asgardian healers say they do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane's infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether's return heralds a catastrophic prophecy.

Malekith, awakened by the Aether's release, turns Algrim into a Kursed and attacks Asgard. During the battle, Malekith and Algrim search for Jane, knowing she contains the Aether. When they fail to capture her, they escape, killing Thor's mother, Frigga.

Despite Odin's orders not to leave Asgard, Thor reluctantly teams up with Loki, who knows of a secret portal to Malekith's world, where they will use Jane to lure and confront Malekith, away from Asgard. In return, Thor promises Loki that he can have his revenge on Malekith for killing their mother. With Volstagg and Sif stalling Asgardian soldiers and Fandral assisting their escape, Thor and Loki commandeer a Dark Elf spaceship and escape to Svartalfheim with Jane.

On Svartalfheim, Loki tricks Malekith into drawing the Aether out of Jane. However, Thor's attempt to destroy the substance fails, and the Aether-empowered Malekith leaves with his ship as Loki appears to be fatally wounded while killing Algrim. Thor, cradling Loki in his arms, promises to tell their father of his sacrifice.

Following Loki's apparent death, Thor and Jane discover another portal in a nearby cave and reunite in London with Jane's mentor Dr. Erik Selvig — who was briefly institutionalized due to the mental trauma he suffered during Loki's attack on Earth — as well as with Darcy and Ian. They learn that Malekith plans to unleash the Aether to destroy the universe, and that he will do this in Greenwich, the center of the Convergence. Thor battles Malekith, but a portal separates them, leaving Malekith unopposed. Thor comes back in time to help his mortal comrades use their scientific equipment to transport Malekith to Svartalfheim, where he is killed before he can destroy the universe.

Thor returns to Asgard, where he declines Odin's offer to take the throne and tells Odin of Loki's sacrifice. As he leaves, Odin's form transforms to that of a grinning Loki -- which leaves one heck of a piece of plotline to be resolved in the next movie.

In a mid-credits scene, Volstagg and Sif visit the Collector and entrust the Aether to his care, commenting that, with the Tesseract already in Asgard, having two Infinity Stones so close together would be dangerous. As they leave, the Collector remarks, "One down, five to go." This was an astounding scene which must have had a rather considerable budget of its own. It should be considered a follow-up to the brief appearance of Thanos during the end credits of the Avengers movie, but bringing in the Collector in a totally unrelated scene like this is likely to leave some people unfamiliar with the character and the concept behind the Infinity Stones -- known as the Infinity Gems in the comics -- scratching their heads.

Also in August 2013, Disney announced plans to promote the film with an attraction at Disneyland. The attraction called "Treasures of Asgard", located next to the Stark Industries exhibit inside Innoventions in Tomorrowland, opened on November 1, 2013 and features displays of Asgardian relics and transports guests to Odin's throne room, where they are greeted by Thor.

As of November 17, 2013, Thor: The Dark World has earned $145,097,130 in North America and $335,100,000 in other countries for a worldwide total of $480,200,000 worldwide. It surpassed its predecessor within 19 days of release. Thor: The Dark World is the third highest-grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While promoting the release of Thor: The Dark World in October 2013, Hemsworth stated that he is contracted for another Thor film and two more Avengers films but would be happy to keep going, if people want more. Also in October 2013, Feige stated that Thor would next be seen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. He added that certain elements at the end of The Dark World hint at a direction for a possible third film, adding, "We definitely have a story we'd like to tell." Additionally, Feige stated that, while Loki would not appear in Age of Ultron and most likely not before a third Thor film, the studio "certainly has ideas of where we would like that to go with him, but we have to see how this one does and then go from there."

As for the comics basis of the character, Thor first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962) and was created by editor-plotter Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and penciller Jack Kirby.

Debuting in the Silver Age of Comic Books, the character is based on the Thor of Norse mythology. He has starred in several ongoing series, and is a founding member of the superhero team the Avengers, appearing in each volume of that series. The character has also appeared in associated Marvel merchandise including animated television series, clothing, toys, trading cards, video games, and movies.

Stan Lee, in 2002, described Thor's genesis early in the Marvel pantheon, following the creation of the Hulk: "How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don't make him human — make him a god. I decided readers were already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. It might be fun to delve into the old Norse legends... Besides, I pictured Norse gods looking like Vikings of old, with the flowing beards, horned helmets, and battle clubs. ...Journey into Mystery needed a shot in the arm, so I picked Thor ... to headline the book. After writing an outline depicting the story and the characters I had in mind, I asked my brother, Larry, to write the script because I didn't have time. ...and it was only natural for me to assign the penciling to Jack Kirby..."

Thor had continued to be a mainstay of the Marvel Universe ever since, with a lengthy run by well-known comics creator Walt Simonson being especially well-regarded. John Buscema also illustrated an impressive eight-year run in the 1970's.

As to his powers and abilities, like all Asgardians, Thor is incredibly long-lived, and has an extended lifespan, which to date has lasted many millennia. Being the son of Odin and the elder goddess Gaea, Thor is physically the strongest of the Asgardians. If pressed in battle, Thor is capable of entering into a state known as the "Warrior's Madness" ("berserkergang" in Norwegian), which will temporarily increase his strength and stamina tenfold, although in this state he attacks friend and foe alike.

Thor possesses a very high resistance to physical injury that approaches invulnerability. Thor possesses keen senses that allow him to track objects traveling faster than light and hear cries from the other side of the planet. Thor has the ability to travel through time. His stamina allowed him to battle the entire Frost Giant army for nine months without any sustenance or rest; Thor has shown the ability to regenerate wounded portions of his body, including entire limbs or organs, with the aid of magical forces such as Mjolnir. Thor has superhuman speed, agility, and reflexes, enabling him to deflect bullets with his hammer. Like all Asgardians, he has immunity to all Earthly diseases and some resistance to magic.

As the Norse god of thunder, Thor can summon the elements of the storm (lightning; rain; wind; snow) and uses Mjolnir as a tool to focus this ability, although the hammer cannot command artificial weather, only natural. He can cause these weather effects over the world and destroy entire buildings; by whirling his hammer he can lift entire buildings with the wind.

Thor is a superb hand-to-hand combatant, and is skilled in armed combat, excelling in the use of the war hammer, sword, axe and mace. Thor possesses two items which assist him in combat: the enchanted Belt of Strength, and his signature weapon, the mystical hammer Mjolnir. The first item doubles Thor's strength and endurance while the second is used to control his weather abilities; flight; energy projection and absorption; dimensional travel; matter manipulation and the most powerful of his offensives, the god blast (which taps into Thor's life force), the Thermo-blast, and the Anti-Force (which counteracts another force).

Using Mjolnir by throwing in the desired direction and then holding on to the handle's leather loop, Thor can fly at supersonic speeds in Earth's atmosphere and travel faster than light in space. When Thor has to transport companions and/or objects to a destination by himself, he has a chariot drawn by two huge mystical goats called Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder that can fly nearly anywhere he desires almost as easily as with Mjolnir. He can throw an object out of Earth's atmosphere using his strength, and throw his hammer to Asgard from which it will return.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. There are two Thor figures available in the initial assortment of Dark World figures. I chose the one that's more ready for battle.

I have to give a lot of credit to Chris Hemsworth. A character like Thor cannot be easy to play. Some of the others, such as Loki, have more distinct traits to work with. But Thor is a very straightforward type of character. He's about as subtle as getting punched with Mjolnir. You combine that straightforward attitude with all of that Asgardian grandeur and mythological background, and it would be way too easy to go way too over the top with the character. Hemsworth plays the character superbly well, not to mention doing a good job of looking the part.

I think one of the telling moments about Thor's character comes in one of the early scenes, during the battle in Vanaheim, then Thor is faced with a huge, rock-like giant whom the marauders have clearly touted as their indestructible champion. One good swing from Thor's hammer and he's turned into a pile of rubble. It's pretty much Thor's "Indiana Jones" moment, akin to when Indy was faced with an expert swordsman and decided to just shoot the guy, but it's also indicative of Thor's personality and approach. Straight ahead, no hesitation, no second thoughts.

Thor stands 4-1/2" in height to the top of his helmet, but Thor's a big guy, so I think it's fair to say that this is a 4" scale line of action figures. The headsculpt, especially given the relatively small size of the figure, is an excellent likeness of Hemsworth. Thor is wearing a dark silver helmet, which the character really didn't wear all that much in the movie, but it's a good cinematic take on the comic version's traditional headgear, looking a bit more high-tech and sophisticated, right down to the wing tips.

Don't be surprised that for all their mythological grandeur and fancy way of saying things, that the Asgardians are also technologically savvy. During the attack on Asgard, you'll see laser cannons come into play. It's not all just sword-swinging.

Thor's costume is respectful to the modern incarnation of the comics character, who himself underwent a fairly considerable wardrobe shift several years ago. For most of his career, Thor wore a costume that would probably best be described as "Asgardian super-hero". Come on, it was the 1960's -- everybody wore tights. Thor's traditional costume consisted of a black sleeveless top with somewhat flared shoulders, black trunks, blue leggings, and fairly fancy yellow boots with black trim. Add to this red and black wristbands and a large red cape. The black top and trunks had a series of six large discs on them, which were either silver or light blue depending on who was doing the coloring.

A few years back, Thor traded this in for something a little less spandex-looking, but still managing to look plenty fancy. The new costume featured a black tunic, and dark silver chain-mail-armored arms and legs. The red cape was still there, as were the discs, as something of a nod to the original. Thor has pretty much maintained this wardrobe since, which was brought into the comic book some time before the first movie was brought before the lenses.

I really don't know if there was any dual planning between the comic book and the movie. I do know that a couple of times in his cinematic appearances, Thor has worn an outfit more akin to his original garb.

However, the figure features the more armored version from the movie. This figure boasts a very ornate black tunic, with gold details on it that not only include the ever-present discs, but other highly detailed elements, in both black and gold. The detail of the sculpt and some of the really fine detail lines is absolutely amazing -- and likely to give you a bit of eyestrain studying them. It's extremely impressive work.

The lower part of the tunic is flexible, to allow for leg articulation. It's actually attached to the upper portion of the figure, which is obviously made from more rigid plastic. You can see the seam between the upper torso and the lower part of the tunic, but it's designed to merge with the overall design of the tunic itself, and it does so superbly well. It really just looks like it's part of the entire design.

Thor's arms are armored in dark silver chain mail, and the pattern of the armor has been very carefully sculpted into the figure. Thor also has armored wristbands, and in a nod to the original look of the character, they're partially red and black striped. Nice touch.

The cinematic Thor, unlike his current comics counterpart, does not have armored leggings. However, he is wearing trousers that appear to be as protective as the tunic. Just because something doesn't look armored, doesn't mean it's not.

Thor's boots are vaguely reminiscent of the original, although they're mostly black, but the gold armored knee pads have a certain look to them that looks a bit like the flared black knee pads of the classic comics Thor.

Everything is sculpted with amazing detail, right down to the figure's hands, which even show veins on the backs. This would be impressive work on a larger action figure. On a 4" scale figure, it's astounding.

Of course, Thor has his red cape. It's a good size, held in place at the top by two gold discs. The presence of these and the four additional ones on the tunic account for the traditional six. The cape is nicely designed, very long, and has a nice "flow" to it without looking especially "pre-posed". It manages to look appropriately regal without being windblown.

Painted detail is superb. It's actually rather minimal on much of the figure. Gold details on most of the body, the wristbands on the arms. Most of the painted detail is on the head, as one might expect, including Thor's dark blonde hair and beard, and his facial features, which have been very nicely done, right down to the intricate blue eyes.

When I select an action figure, I always try to get the neatest paint job. When I bought this Thor figure, there were several on display. I was impressed by the fact that none of them had sloppy paint jobs. It was actually a rather tough call for me to pick the best one. They all looked good.

Naturally, Thor comes with Mjolnir. Now, you might think there's not much you could do to trick out a hammer, but if that hammer shoots lightning, that's another matter entirely. Hasbro decided to have a little fun here. The handle of Thor's hammer is relatively straightforward, right down to the leather loop that he grabs when he throws the hammer and wants to fly -- something very effectively demonstrated in the movie -- but the main mallet section has been molded in transparent blue, and has lightning bolts coming off it!

Now, in my experience, trying to sculpt energy effects in plastic is a tricky business, and more often than not, it doesn't work terribly well. This actually isn't bad at all, and it's certainly a very intricate sculpt that can't have been one of the easier molds to create for the figure line!

Let's discuss articulation. Let's definitely discuss articulation. I'm convinced that one of the things that did no particular favors to the action figure line based on the last Marvel movie -- Iron Man 3 -- is the fact that the figures had all of five points of articulation -- head, arms, and legs. I don't think that level of articulation has done any favors to several other action figure lines, for that matter.

Thor has a much better, much more appropriate range of articulation. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Now, that's what an action figure should be! Thank you, and let's keep it this way, please?

So, what's my final word? My one and only complaint about this figure is its limited availability. I'm also a little disappointed that the main villain of the piece -- Malekith -- is not available in the initial assortment. And I wish I was optimistic about a second series that might include him, as of this writing, I simply don't know. But if the figures are limited to one major retailer -- online outlets notwithstanding -- that could be a complication, and a worrisome oner. We'll just have to hope, and see.

But I certainly have no complaints about Thor himself. This is an outstanding action figure, a superb likeness of the character as he appears in the movie, and a very impressive representation of that movie, which I greatly enjoyed. The figure is well-detailed, neatly painted, very well articulated, and I do like the "lightning hammer".

If you're a Thor fan, especially if you enjoyed the recent movie THOR: THE DARK WORLD, then you're certainly going to want this figure.

THOR from THOR: THE DARK WORLD definitely has my highest recommendation!