Thor: The Dark World (2013) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some suggestive content
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Chris O'Dowd
Cameo: Stan Lee, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Evans
Director: Alan Taylor
Screenplay: Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Review published November 8, 2013

Thor: The Dark World is the eighth of the Marvel Films' Avengers franchise entries, and, arguably, the weakest of them all thus far, though still not very far off from the first Thor film. The formula, which blends monumental special effects sequences with cheeky one-liners and juvenile character interplay, continues to prove successful, as there is, admittedly, plenty of bang for one's buck in the cataclysmic action sequences, special effects, and bits of well-crafted fantasy backdrops. Unfortunately, the plot is convoluted and uninteresting, and feels more like it belongs in a Lord of the Rings movie than in a tale of realm-hopping Norse mythos.

Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Star Trek Into Darkness) returns as Thor, the Norse god of thunder, on the verge of becoming the king of Asgard should he prove himself worthy by uniting and protecting the Nine Realms, including Earth, during the alignment that takes place every 5,000 years that opens all of the inter-Realm portals. He faces his toughest test yet when a powerful dark elf of yore named Malekith (Eccleston, Unfinished Song) returns for another attempt to turn the Realms dark again, using a red, liquid-y force known as the Aether. Stuck in the middle is Thor's forlorn Earthly love interest, Jane Foster (Portman, Your Highness), who unwittingly becomes the host for the Aether that Malekith and his Dark Elves want to get at any cost.

Out is the direction of Kenneth Brannagh, and in is Emmy-award winning Alan Taylor (Palookaville, The Emperor's New Clothes), mostly known for his prolific television work on such shows as "The Sopranos", "Sex and the City", "Mad Men", and a host of others, but it's probably for his recent work on HBO's "Game of Thrones" got him the gig due to the emphasis on medieval-esque battle sequences. Where Brannagh managed to elevate the scenes of Asgardian interplay to Shakespearean grandeur (even if the script is far from that), Taylor seems mostly uninterested in the exploration of it, constantly pushing forward to get to action sequences and sitcom-cute character beats.

Though Marvel-ites will no doubt be pleased at seeing a favorite character do his thing yet again on the big screen, one can't help but be a bit disappointed that more couldn't be done to provide some depth to the characters or Thor's own storyline. Of all of the Avengers to have their own film, Thor is my far the thinnest in definition, and the makers of the series see little need to define him as anything more than, "Hey, he's a god, he's a hunk, he has a hammer, what more do you need to know?" As with the first entry, the strength of Thor: The Dark World comes in finding humor in the characters, who banter and chide one another incessantly, and Thor still has his humorous "fish out of water" moments (one that got a decent chuckle out of me is a small one where Thor puts his hammer, Mjolnir, on a coat hook upon entering a London flat).

The biggest liability to Thor: The Dark World is its script, credited to no less than three screenwriters, who even then needed the services of script doctor (and Avengers director and scribe) Joss Whedon to try to punch up some of the character touches and snarky dialogue, though a good amount of the dialogue was also improvised by the actors. The Asgardians are noble in demeanor and dress exquisitely, but they're written as thin as the comic book pages they were originally printed on. At least they come off a good deal better than the mortals on Earth, who are all kooky and not very bright, despite supposedly ranking among Earth's leading scientists. The Kat Dennings (The House Bunny, Big Momma's House 2) sidekick character of intern Darcy is particularly grating, and probably only exists to play so dumb that it makes the bewilderingly daft Jane Foster actually look like an astrophysicist by comparison, though even she acts no more mature than a pouty, love-struck teenager a good deal of the time. The fact that, out of billions of people on Earth, that Thor's potential main squeeze would become the host body is only one contrivance, out of a great many, to keep the same characters involved for a second go-round.

The film manages to come to life once Thor's trickster step-brother (and main nemesis) Loki enters the scene, though it's a good deal into the story. I criticized his character in the first Thor, but Tom Hiddleston (War Horse, Midnight in Paris) has really grown into the role, perhaps thanks to the fan fervor shown to the character, and the manner in which Whedon redefined his character in The Avengers. The way that he's worked into this script is quite contrived, but he's certainly a welcome departure from the very stale Dark Elves at the heart of the muddled main plot. It also helps that he's the only character in the entire production that has any amount of nuance. However, Loki's beefed-up inclusion did come at the cost of the main story of Malekith's origins and plot, which is summed up in a feeble voiceover narration that kicks off the film. Given that the Loki scenes crackle and the Malekith scenes fizzle, it's hard to gripe, but at the same time, why not just rewrite the truncated Dark Elves angle to a much more interesting, entertaining one altogether, considering it was deemed the most expendable of the scenes to be cut?

This sequel doesn't really push forward Thor's personal storyline much, and in terms of for the overall Avengers arc, pretty much none at all, which makes it feel like an effort to turn a profit and please the legion of fans who had been clamoring for more. Thor, at least as played by Hemsworth, is still, at the very least, charismatic and comical, which makes scenes involving him great fun to watch, even if the storyline around him lacks flavor.  While Thor: The Dark World leaves a lot to be desired for those who aren't huge aficionados of the Marvel Avengers franchise, for those who are already indoctrinated into the fold, it likely delivers enough action, adventure, and humor (the latter is the biggest saving grace) to sate the thirst for more until bigger and better entries come out down the pike.

-- Stay tuned after the film is over for a mid-credits scene that ties in to an upcoming Marvel film, and a lighthearted, post-credits bonus for Thor fans.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo