By Melissa Agar
Thor: The Dark World (Marvel/Disney, 2013) – Director: Alan Taylor. Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (s/p); Don Payne & Robert Rodat (story); based on the comic book series by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, & Jaimie Alexander. Color and 3-D, 112 minutes.
I have a weakness for superhero movies. Time and finances have never allowed me to appease the comic book geek that dwells within my soul, so superhero movies kind of exist to fill that void. Of all the superhero movies that have flown into theaters in recent years, the ones centering on the Avengers tend to be among my favorite. It was, then, with significant excitement that I headed to the multiplex this weekend to see the latest installment of the Thor saga. While the film is not perfect, it is a great continuation of the story of the Nordic god.
The film picks up after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Hemsworth) has returned home to Asgard, still pining over scientist Jane Foster (Portman). His brother Loki (Hiddleston) has been imprisoned, and Thor stands ready to assume the throne from his father Odin (Hopkins). The universe is on the cusp of the Convergence, the rare moment when all nine realms of the universe are in perfect alignment. The Convergence presents the perfect opportunity for the Dark Elves, led by the evil Malekith (Eccleston), to once again attempt to employ the Aether, a nefarious force that will plunge the universe into darkness and allow the Dark Elves to lead. The Convergence also opens up gravitational anomalies on Earth, one of which is discovered by Jane. One of these anomalies pull Jane into the secret place where the Aether was banished centuries ago, and the Aether “infects” Jane. Thor returns to Earth to rescue Jane and take her to Asgard so he can protect her from the Dark Elves who are now targeting her to harvest the Aether from her. When the Dark Elves invade Asgard to find Jane, tragedy strikes, forcing Thor to enlist the aid of Loki to protect the universe.
Yes, the film is filled with a lot of silly, often nonsensical mythology, namely the whole Aether thing. A lengthy (and clunky) prologue introduces us to the concept as well as the history of the Dark Elves and their quest to plunge the universe into darkness. The need to explain all this weighs down the beginning of the film in terms of story and as far as the tone of the film is concerned. It’s a dark, kind of confusing plot device and makes it difficult for the audience to initially settle into the film. The motivation of Malekith and the Dark Elves remains a bit murky as well. Are they destroying the universe or just making everything dark? It seems a bit uncertain at times.
As we all know, though, these sorts of plot devices are sort of beside the point in these kinds of movies. It’s about the characters and effects. Thor is one of the more challenging superheroes. Because he is a god, he lacks much of the vulnerability and humanity that makes, say, Tony Stark so appealing. Thor is much more serious than Stark and missing the heart of Steve Rogers. Jane Foster becomes the force that gives Thor his heart. Hemsworth and Portman have a nice chemistry when they’re allowed to stop fighting invading marauders and just relate to one another.
In all honesty, though, the film belongs to Hiddleston. His Loki remains the true breakout character of the Marvel universe, and much of that is due to Hiddleston’s wry, playful take on Thor’s antagonistic brother. When Hiddleston is onscreen, the film lights up and a whole new energy takes over. The brotherly back and forth between Hiddleston and Hemsworth is a highlight of the film, and the energy of the movie often suffers when Hiddleston is absent, particularly those taking place in Asgard, where things seem much more overbearingly self-important. I guess when you’re the guardian of the nine realms, there’s no room for the occasional smile. One of the things that made the first Thor film such a delight was watching Thor adjust to the limitations on Earth. None of that is present here since most of Thor’s scenes take place on Asgard or in battle. Thor only gets his lightness back when he is with Loki.
Despite these complaints, Thor: The Dark World does succeed in being an entertaining film and not just because of Hiddleston. Once the real conflict heats up, it becomes an engaging film. Yes, you sort of have to shrug away the whole, “What the heck is this Aether thing?” When you do, you find a mighty appealing hero battling to save the universe with the help of his mischevious brother and a strong, smart love interest as well as some wisecracking buddies (Dennings chief among them, back as Jane’s intern Darcy) who provide a little additional comic relief. The film settles into a good groove balancing the intense battles with lighter moments. It also has a killer final moment that is surely setting the blogosphere afire with what it all means as far as future Marvel/Thor films are concerned.
With The Avengers and the Iron Man series being the gold standard of Marvel films, Thor: The Dark World falls a little short, but when you consider it on its own, it’s a pretty great film with engaging characters and dazzling effects. Once you set aside the need to truly understand some elements, you are left with a pretty terrific film.