Review: 'Thor: The Dark World' a fun, if flimsy, comics romp
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.
At this point it's safe to say Marvel's “Thor” franchise is the anti-Batman, and that's meant as high praise.
‘Thor: The Dark World’
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo
Don't let the “The Dark World” subtitle deceive you. Despite some darker visual overtones and a threat from beings that literally want to bring darkness to the entire universe, this movie is more interested in just being a fun ride than anything else.
A weak and overly complicated script keeps it from being as good as the first “Thor,” and it doesn't have the sheer spectacle factor of “The Avengers,” but it's a fun and stylish return to a more fantastical side of the Marvel movie universe.
The plot of “Thor: The Dark World” is a mess and the movie's only real weakness. In the dark pages of history (no pun intended) before even Odin's time as ruler of the gods, Odin's father Bor fought the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wanted to use something called the Aether to kill everything on all of the Nine Realms, including Earth. Bor thought he killed them all, but Malekith and a select few of Dark Elves escaped, and they've come back to finish the job.
Unfortunately this plot gets a short shrift, as the movie also tries to balance it alongside threads involving the relationship between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the romance between Thor and scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The movie just ends up trying to do too much, leading to all of the plots being a bit undercooked and a rushed climax. It's all fun to watch, but as the movie hurtles along you might find yourself questioning who is doing what and why.
Tone and pacing are the key thing that separates “The Dark World” from its predecessor; where Kenneth Branagh kept things relatively serious (but not too serious) in the first film while allowing brief pauses for comic relief, new director Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) has gone with a approach where the breaks are where the plot happens. The movie careens from action scenes to comic relief and back again, but Taylor stages both the fight scenes and the jokes with considerable skill, keeping the proceedings very lively throughout. (Taylor gets a lot of mileage out of the god-like Thor doing humdrum human activities, and a clever cameo from another Avenger is both a big surprise and the movie's best laugh.)
Pretty much everyone in the cast is hamming it up here, but they're all fun to watch. As Thor, Hemsworth has found the perfect balance between seriousness and tongue-in-cheek self-seriousness, giving the movie a relatively calm center as everything else spins around him. The large (too large, really) supporting cast also turns in good work for the most part, with Idris Elba as the badass gatekeeper of Asgard, Stellan Starsgard as a seemingly deranged scientist and Kat Dennings as Jane's ditzy friend Darcy emerging as standouts.
But, as we all pretty much knew going into this thing, it's Hiddleston as Loki who once again walks off with the movie lock, stock and barrel. Given that he tried to conquer the world in “The Avengers,” Loki's lost some of the ambiguity that made him so compelling in the first “Thor,” but Hiddleston imbues him with barely concealed rage and not-at-all concealed contempt for everyone around him that make him an absolute joy to watch. (A very late twist also sets up some immensely intriguing possibilities for his character and the Marvel movie-verse in general.)
The bottom line on “Thor: The Dark World” is it's probably the best movie we could get about space Vikings fighting elves with spaceships. It's ludicrous, silly and barely held together by its story, but it's got enough energy to make you forget all that and enjoy the ride.
Read more of Rob Ryan's thoughts on movies on his blog at projections.blogs.gainesville.com.