The original “Thor” remains one of my favorite comic-book movies of all time. Drawing thematic inspiration from Biblical and Shakespearean material, Kenneth Branagh’s vision of reinvented Norse mythology blended humor and drama with aplomb. Alas, the inevitable sequel – “Thor – The Dark World” (directed by “Game of Thrones” veteran Alan Taylor) – never approaches its predecessor’s heights….that said, it’s still entertaining and well worth seeing.
Here’s the plot: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and companions must prevent the evil dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) from obtaining the Aether, a dark energy weapon that will allow him to destroy the universe. (That’s pretty much it. Really.)
It’s not particularly innovative, and the number of plot holes here is extreme. Granted, it’s a comic-book movie that probably shouldn’t be subjected to intense scrutiny, but much of the storyline strains credulity even by its own standards. Here’s a quick example: the conclusion of the first film involved Thor smashing a celestial bridge to Earth in an attempt to prevent his brother from using it to destroy a race of hostile frost giants. This was powerful on two levels: first of all, it rendered Thor a truly altruistic figure (what other comic book hero risks his life to save his ENEMIES?), but secondly, it prevented Thor from ever being with his love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Now, however, Thor appears able to hop between planets at will. “The Avengers” explained this badly enough with a vague deus-ex-machina, but “Thor – The Dark World” offers an even lamer excuse. Any drama stemming from this “self-sacrificial romance,” accordingly, feels unbelievably contrived.
Moreover, there is literally zero character development. It’s pretty obvious that this generation of Marvel Studios solo movies is treading water until the next giant ensemble film – one can credibly envision a Hollywood executive mandating that “at the end of each film, the status quo must not have substantially changed.” This strategy worked well for origin films – after all, one must first introduce each character individually before bringing them together – but here, it comes off as an attempt to avoid confronting the difficulties of an interweaving meta-storyline.
All of this sounds pretty scathing – and it’d be a serious indictment, if “Thor – The Dark World” wasn’t so gleefully fun.
Like its predecessor, “Thor – The Dark World” is frequently laugh-out-loud funny (and not in the unintentional way – there’s a strong sense of winking self-awareness that suffuses the entire proceedings, without making the leap into outright satire). Thor’s scheming brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, just keeps getting better and better – his comedic timing is fantastic, and this is accentuated by a smartly written script packed with humor (if not much plot coherence).
The action scenes are also wonderful, in large part due to the truly inspired art design that clearly went into this film. Not once does it stray into the numbing carnage of “Man of Steel” – “Thor – The Dark World” is consistently watchable, engrossing, and perfectly paced. (It’s also almost completely inoffensive from a content standpoint). If huge amounts of money are going to be lavished on comic book movies for the foreseeable future, I’d be happy if most of them ended up like this.
Is it worth seeing? Yes, with the right set of expectations. It doesn’t come close to anything Christopher Nolan’s put out (nor does it attempt to be “thoughtful” in the slightest), but in this context, that’s okay. As holiday-season movies go, one could do far, far worse.
It isn’t deep, but it’s fun. And that’s enough.
Normalized Score: 3.4