Thor: The Dark World
Director : Alan Taylor
Screenplay : Christopher L. Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat; based on characters created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2013
Stars : Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Christopher Eccleston (Malekith), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Zachary Levi (Fandral), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Rene Russo (Frigga), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Algrim / Kurse), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Stellan Skarsgård (Erik Selvig)
In Thor: The Dark World, nothing less than the entire universe is at stake, which ups the ante considerably from the titular thunder god’s last appearance in The Avengers (2012), when it was only Earth that was in danger. Once again played by Chris Hemsworth, complete with bulging muscles and flowing golden mane (“Because Hemsworth It,” as a parody Pantene ad currently circulating the web amusingly suggests), our Asgardian warrior-hero has fully redeemed himself since his first appearance in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (2011), where his arrogance got him banished by his father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), to Earth, where he met and fell in love with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a comely astrophysicist. His conniving brother Loki (Tim Hiddleston), who betrayed him in Thor and then tried to take over Earth in The Avengers, has been locked away in Asgard as punishment for his war crimes.
All is not at peace, though, even though Thor has helped bring stability to the Nine Realms (of which Asgard is one), which are now on the brink of a rare “Convergence” in which they all line up, causing all kinds of metaphysical havoc in the universe. In a hectic, Lord of the Rings-ish prologue we learn about a plot thousands of years ago by the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to use a powerful substance known as Aether to destroy the universe and “usher in a new dark age” (whatever that means). The plot was foiled by Odin’s father, who took the Aether and hid it away while Malekith and several other surviving Dark Elves went into hiding in their spaceship, awaiting its reappearance. The Aether makes its return when Jane, investigating mysterious events at an abandoned warehouse, stumbles through a dimensional portal and winds up on the world where the Aether is being hidden. After it infects her, she becomes a kind of pawn between Malekith and Thor, as the former wants her so he can get ahold of the Aether again and the latter needs her to draw Malekith out and hopefully destroy him before he, you know, decimates everyone’s existence.
Decidedly more plot-heavy than Branagh’s film, Thor: The Dark World is also, as the title implies, darker and sometimes weightier, which doesn’t make it better. In fact, the more serious aspects of Branagh’s film were also the most forgettable, and it worked when Branagh lightened the tone and allowed the humor to shine through. The humor is once again the best part, and we get sly doses of it throughout The Dark World, mostly courtesy of Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Jane’s sardonic assistant, who simply cuts through all the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of cable television whose most recent work on Game of Thrones likely landed him this gig, has a good visual sensibility and a flair for action, but he doesn’t show a great deal of dexterity in shifting tones. While there is a lot at stake plotwise, it never feels all that grave; the enormity of the threat renders it almost abstract, as does the catch-all menace of the Aether, which is presented as swirling, liquid-like tendrils of ectoplasmic goo. The film’s darkness is too muddy, and while much of the humor works (especially an unexpectedly satirical cameo by Captain America), it is sometimes telegraphed too obviously, as when Stellan Skarsgård’s Dr. Erik Selvig delivers a lengthy explanation of “The Convergence,” and we wait impatiently for the long-withheld reverse shot to deliver the punchline that he is not talking to a bunch of other scientists.
When the movie works, it is largely because the actors are game and feel in sync with the material. Hemsworth has found his groove in a role that could too easily be a beefcake bore, and he clearly recognizes how to have fun with Thor without undermining his authority. His chemistry with Portman isn’t that great (her best scene is an awkward dinner date with a well-meaning doofus played to perfection by Chris O’Dowd), but his rapport with Loki, who Hiddleston plays as beaten and embittered, but not completely off his game, has just the right amount of sting. It isn’t enough to lift Thor: The Dark World completely out of its jumble of a plot, but it does inject some much-needed life.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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