Mark Reviews Movies

Thor: The Dark World


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Alan Taylor

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Jonathan Howard, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 11/8/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 8, 2013

Thor gave us a superhero with a pretty silly mythology—involving intergalactic travel on a rainbow bridge and ice monsters and plenty of familial angst played in cumbersome costumes—surrounding him, but then the film—kind of bravely, in retrospect—practically abandoned the world and exposition it had established, exiled its protagonist from his home world, and removed his superpowers from the equation. The result was a fish-out-water comedy that joked about its conceit but still maintained a firm grasp on its hero's journey.

The point was how Thor would actually become a hero without any of the external qualities—superhuman strength, the ability to fly, and his trusty hammer—that would mark him as one. Those were never the problem; it was the flaws within his character that kept him from truly achieving the status of legitimate hero.

If the first film showed us the kind of fun that could be had with this character by removing everything about him that could make him unique among his superhero peers, Thor: The Dark World shows how dull the adventures of the guardian of the nine realms of the universe can be when played with sincerity. It's not just that, though. The sequel feels like another in the long line of origin stories for any given superhero. After the first film did so much to twist and bypass the now-established formula of the comic-book hero origin story, the new team of screenwriters (Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely) has returned the Asgardian warrior, who is not technically a god but has been mistaken for one in the past, to his home, where he's back to being a fighter for the good of the trillions of sentient beings across the universe.

There, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, still ruggedly charming and perhaps even more so this time) is trying to bring back peace to the nine realms by fighting a group of bad guys for unknown reasons on another planet. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is finally proud of his son and believes he will be a worthy successor to the throne. Thor's adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), whom we last saw trying to take over Earth, has been arrested and sentenced to live out the remainder of his long life in the dungeon of Asgard.

Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still pining over Thor, whom she hasn't seen since he disappeared after their first romantic encounter. She's in London because her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is convinced there is the same kind of activity that brought Thor to Earth the first time happening once again. Jane's intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) has discovered an abandoned warehouse where there are portals into which things disappear and sometimes reappear. Jane stumbles across one that sends her to a murky place where an ancient substance called the Aether, which existed even before the universe itself, has been locked away to keep it out of the wrong hands.

Of course, Jane's discovery of it awakens Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of a race known as the Dark Elves that also existed before the universe. They have long desired to use the Aether to return the entire universe to its pre-light darkness. Thor's grandfather stopped them long ago, and now it's Thor's turn.

There's a lot of exposition here, and it's either of the vaguely superfluous or knowingly nostalgic variety. The latter, of course, is in regards to its characters, who haven't changed at all. In some instances, it's worth the reconnection, like how the tricky Loki always seems to be working an angle, but for the most part, these characters are basically reset to fill in whatever actions are necessary to drive the plot. One may remember, for example, that Odin was a king of peace in the first film, but here, he's become a cold man, willing to sacrifice each and every one of the people in his realm to stop the villain ("How does that make you any different than Malekith" Thor asks his father, to which the obvious answer is that Odin isn't trying to destroy the entire universe). The inconsistent characterization exists solely to give Thor a reason to go against his old man and, hence, move the story forward with the help of an unlikely ally.

Without the sense of humor that elevated the first film, the movie forces us to seriously contemplate its unclear mythology and clichéd plot (That old chestnut of a villain seeking a destructive MacGuffin has always been lazy, but unless there's something else at work, it's just downright tiresome). The story goes from one battle to another, relying entirely on our previous connection to its hero to carry it through to the end.

There are some flashes of humor here when Thor returns to Earth, and the final fight between Thor and Malekith has a clever setup in which the two (and just about everyone else around them) go back and forth between different dimensions. Thor: The Dark World tries to return its eponymous hero to the very things that, in theory, make him unique, but the cookie-cutter premise and lack of any new facet to the character turn him into anything but.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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