Most moviegoers probably didn’t realize Thor was a comic book character in the Marvel universe before his big-screen debut in 2011. Flash forward just two and a half years later and Chris Hemsworth has portrayed the Norse god of thunder three times already. “Thor: The Dark World” looks to continue riding the post-“Avengers” wave, but Avengers cameos and S.H.I.E.L.D references aside, it’s not what most audiences have come to know as a superhero movie.
This won’t matter for the target audience of “Thor: The Dark World.” I count myself among the many who get giddy over mentions of realms, Dark Elves and powerful Aether. These, however, are the hallmarks of sci fi/fantasy. So, let the record state that “The Dark World” falls most definitively in that category, because if that doesn’t excite you, “The Dark World” most likely won’t.
Marvel Studios hasn’t misfired since “Iron Man 2,” which — all superhero films ever considered — wasn’t that much of a misfire. Thor’s second solo outing more or less measures similarly to Iron Man’s. The movie just doesn’t have much going for it besides its geek-tastic charms, a charismatic leading man and one of the most complex and lovable villains in Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Anything that opens with a scene explaining a battle that happened long ago in which a villain and an evil power were thought to be sealed away forever better be “The Fellowship of the Ring,” otherwise it belongs in a video game. Unfortunately, that’s the sour note “The Dark World” begins on, explaining how Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim tried to use a powerful dark matter called Aether to cast the nine realms in darkness exactly 5,000 years ago, the last time all nine realms aligned. Of course, such things happen every 5,000 years, and when Thor’s love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), happens upon the Aether, Malekith awakens to take his vengeance.
“Thor: The Dark World” shares a lot of characteristics with “Star Trek,” jumping between realms as “Star Trek” does planets, introducing new species with cool spaceships and cooler weapons. Asgard comes to life with the same aesthetic that original “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh and the Marvel Studios creative team dreamed up a few years ago, but “Dark World” director Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) gets to play around in it. The film is almost unapologetic in the way it splashes around in sci-fi/fantasy hallmarks, and Taylor’s fight sequences are a significant improvement from the first “Thor” in terms of style.
Taylor was also a decent pick in terms of familial tensions in fantasy. The Thor-Loki dynamic was a highlight in the first film, and given that Loki caused all the mischief in “The Avengers,” it’s twice as interesting watching Hiddleston and Hemsworth together. Hiddleston in particular continues to step even deeper into the role in this film, though Loki is mostly relegated to a subplot except for the film’s most exciting sequence, when Thor and the Warriors Three enlist his help to try and trick Malekith. The script takes full advantage of his trickster powers, but also creates an intriguing character arc for him. It’s hard to say if it’s the writing and Hiddleston that make Loki a huge highlight of “The Dark World,” or the notion of his subplot also serving as a continuation of what happened in “The Avengers” and a precursor to what will come in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Either way, “The Dark World” has significantly more of a post-“Avengers” component than “Iron Man 3” did.
The script also shares the same sense of humor that gave the first “Thor” its charm. Hemsworth is such a presence that when he gets to deliver a subtle a joke it has an ironic twist to it that works every time. The humor revolving around the human characters, however, such as Kat Dennings (who needs to not appear in these films ever again — she isn’t going to be the deciding factor for teenage girls thinking of buying tickets), tends to be corny. Predictably, Portman is a wasted talent yet again as Foster is further reduced to a damsel in distress fawning over Thor despite his tendency to run off to other realms and leave her for extended periods of time.
Given Marvel Studios’ pedigree, it’s fair to call “Thor: The Dark World” underwhelming. Plenty to look at, laugh at and geek out over, but a film that will ultimately be seen as a gap-filler between two epic “Avengers” films. That’s okay for Thor, because you don’t necessarily have to give grounding to a fantastical character from such a strange universe, but some effort to make the film a bit suspenseful and prove a trial for the main characters might’ve helped stave off our wild anticipation for May 2015.
Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Don Payne, Robert Rodat (story), Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber (comic)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston