Thor: The Dark World
What It Is
Asgard is again in turmoil, which is to say, dark and stormy and pocked with stilted dialogue concerning legacies and evil forces and who owes what to whom. Thor: The Dark World opens on a protracted historical flashback, reminding you of the battles among the Nine Realms ended when Thor’s grandfather and his army subdue another army, that is, a slew of unconvincingly armored Asgardians fight Dark Elves rendered in CGI with swords and maces and shields, until the grandfather declares victory and leaves the losers feeling vengeful.
That vengeance, undertaken by a hideously pale-skeletal Malekith (a digitally transformed Christopher Eccleston), means to destroy not just Asgarth and his enemy’s descendants — including Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — but all other realms’ residents as well. This means earth is at risk, of course, and especially the scientist Jane (Natalie Portman), because as her stubborn search for a two-years-absent Thor has led her to London, she’s infected with an unsettlingly spiky-red-black vapor called the Aether, which just so happens to be the means by which Malekith will destroy everything.
The Aether is a little like Dorothy’s red shoes in The Wizard of Oz, a powerful force beyond her own control that incites Malekith’s rage and pursuit. As Thor can’t sort out how to get the Aether out of her, he decides instead to use her as bait so he can kill the villain. (The logic isn’t precisely sound, but he’s Thor, the guy who wins his fights with a hammer.) This incoherent plan produces an incoherent set of storylines around it, involving multiple players, some back from the first film, including Thor’s buddies, the lookout Heimdall (Idris Elba) and the Warriors Three, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), as well as Sif (Jamie Alexander), left again to yearn for Thor while he remains committed to the human Jane.
Jane’s band of friends is similarly assorted and not precisely fitted into the plot; mostly, they act out side-stories while the major action gathers momentum. So: Jane’s mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgård) strips off his clothes and runs around Stonehenge in hopes of staving off the cataclysm he somehow anticipates (he and Jane repeatedly peer into handheld-screen gadgets showing planets and rays of some sort that cause them to gasp and shudder), and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) now has her own intern, a nice enough tall boy named Ian (Jonathan Howard), whom she uses as a sounding board for her snarky commentary on Jane’s otherworldly, not-exactly-scientific business that so enthralls Thor and Jane. (The Thor on earth sequence features a nice moment when he clambers into a tiny humans’ car, his huge cape and hammer and muscled arms all cramped into an awkward ball of confusion, but poised, still, as he wants to be).
Because Loki is imprisoned on Asgard following his shenanigans in The Avengers, he’s on hand when Thor brings Jane to Asgard. As he carps at his brother, frets over their mother, and resents their father, reframing the mayhem Malekith wreaks as a domestic dysfunction that just happens to kill off squads of faceless soldiers and destroy enormous edifices and artifacts, and then move on to London and demolish bridges and monuments.
All the demolition is more tedious than thrilling though, and this film — much like the first Thor and The Avengers, is most entertaining when Loki is on screen: again, he uses his shape-shifting to demonstrate what can be fun about comic book movies, that big battles and ponderous proclamations aren’t so much fun as witty asides, complicated relationships, and visual gags.
Why It’s Fun
Loki is again the best reason to see the film. Though Thor offers his own clever reflections on the petty concerns of humans, Loki’s barbed observations of Thor and his earthbound associates, as well as his loyal Asgardian crew, are the movie’s highlights.
The special effects — including the 3D and the digital backdrops — are the movie’s weakest elements. At times, the stunts set against CGIed vehicles or architecture are distractingly unconvincing.
Who’s Going To Love It
Marvels franchise fans will want to see this newest outing, even if it’s not the most wonderful (watch for an amusing cameo by one of the Avengers). Loki fans will wish he had more screen time. Thor fans will hope he can finally move on, away from the pompous Asgardians and toward the livelier super-friends he discovered in The Avengers.
What To Be Aware Of
The first time we see Erik, he’s naked on the TV news, seemingly gone mad and running about Stonehenge determined to stop what he claims is the world-ending “convergence.” As it turns out he’s right, he’s not actually mad, but he looks a little loopy and needs to be fetched from a hospital by his friends. During the Stonehenge caper, his crotch is blurred out, as it would be if televised by BBC.
Two characters who are close to Thor are killed, and he is upset both times, in a comic-booky howling kind of way.
Language includes Darcy saying (twice), “Holy sh**.”
6 out of 10
Thor: The Dark World
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings
Studio: Marvel Studios
US General Release: November 8, 2013
UK General Release: October 30, 2013