Thor: The Dark World (United States, 2013)

November 08, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Thor: The Dark World Poster

Thor: The Dark World offers the kind of straightforward action/adventure yarn that adherents of the genre will appreciate. It's an example of superhero filmmaking 101 at work with high octane fights and special effects-fueled eye candy trumping narrative. The movie is pretty to look at in a Transformers sort of way and moves briskly enough that it never threatens to bore, but it's hard to feel much of anything about the characters and, when it's all over, there's a sense that everything that happens is obligatory. Thor is essentially Marvel's answer to Superman and, as with The Man of Steel, it can be difficult to craft a tale around a hero who is essentially invincible.

The enemy this time around is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the King of the Dark Elves, who may be the worst developed villain in any Marvel movie. His motives are Blofeld-esque on a grand scale: use the power of the indestructible Aether to blast the nine realms back into primordial darkness. Having failed once in the time of Thor's grandfather, he's back to try again. He has a henchman or two and drives around in space in a really big ship equipped with a cloaking device.

Buried under pounds of prosthetics and makeup, Christopher Eccleston (who once played the ninth Doctor Who) is unrecognizable. He growls his lines with appropriate Bane-like menace, although there aren't many of them. It begs the question of why the filmmakers bothered with a "name" actor when not even his family will recognize him. As a character, Malekith is about as one-dimensional as a villain can be. His backstory is truncated and he's not given enough screen time to be more than passingly menacing. The only thing interesting about him is when he goes one-on-one with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in an admittedly fun battle that has the two of them popping through space from planet to planet (with Thor's hammer desperately trying to catch up).

The screenplay neatly dispenses with the elephant in the room of "where are the rest of The Avengers?" (an issue that hamstrung Iron Man 3) by having most of the action take place off-planet. Asgard is nicely rendered although it seemed more grandiose when Kenneth Branagh envisioned it in the first Thor. This time around, director Alan Taylor sees it as a smaller, less majestic place. Perhaps that's necessary to the story. The kinds of indignities suffered by the gods this time around might not have worked in Branagh's version of the realm.

Two characters enable Thor: The Dark World to occasionally transcend the generic mediocrity that defines this endeavor. Tom Hiddleston's Loki, making his third appearance, has grown so comfortable in the role that he's able to steal every scene in which he appears. Thor: The Dark World comes to life when Hiddleston is on screen and his interaction with Hemsworth evidences far more chemistry than the rather feeble spark evident between Thor and his lady love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Then there's Kat Dennings' sharp-tongued Darcy, who is by far the most interesting secondary character not named Loki. I'd love to see a movie in which Darcy and Loki team up and go on an adventure - it would be worth the price of admission for the actors alone.

Hemsworth, like Hiddleston, has grown into the role thanks to previous appearances in Thor and The Avengers. It's hard to deny his charisma and the scenes he shares with Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins (as Odin) represent the best Thor: The Dark World has to offer. Unfortunately, his confrontation with Malekith is CGI dominated. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman is disappointingly bland. The actress, who is capable of delivering strong performances in the right material, is as utterly defeated by the role of Jane Foster as she was by that of Queen Amidala. Stellan Skarsgard has been transformed into pure comic relief, running around in his underwear (or less) and acting like a lunatic. Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba are criminally underused, but that was also the case in the first Thor. Their presence provides Thor: The Dark World with a patina of cinematic legitimacy, no unlike Marlon Brando's inclusion in Superman.

Thor: The Dark World is occasionally elevated by the moments when it plants tongue in cheek and decides not to take itself too seriously. Hiddleston and Dennings' dialogue is often representative of this as are scenes when Thor literally hangs up his hammer or boards a train in the London underground and asks directions. In fact, it's possible to make a compelling case that the film is at its best when it's taking a break from the primary storyline.

Thor: The Dark World is really just a placeholder to keep fans from losing interest between The Avengers and its sequel. This movie, like Iron Man 3, might have worked better had it existed outside the long shadow cast by Joss Whedon's massive team up. Once a franchise enters the realm of the epic, it's hard to satisfy by backtracking and there are only so many times a hero (or group of heroes) can face Armageddon without it becoming redundant. Thor: The Dark World delivers in a generic superhero fashion by offering a couple hours' diversion (with inter-credits and post-credits scenes to keep butts in seats for the entire running time) but one can be excused for finding the overall experience a little stale.

Thor: The Dark World (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2013-11-08
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1