Review: Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World posterThor is one of the old Gods, the son of Odin, brother of trickster Loki and part of the pantheon of Norse Gods. So Thor being in a world of swords and armor makes complete sense, and indeed, Thor’s weapon of choice is Mjölnir, his hammer. Yes, his hammer has a name.

Drop Thor onto modern-day Earth and we have a humorous situation where he’s incredibly powerful but also completely clueless about common technology like cell phones and automobiles.

That tension between the grand world of Asgard, the majestic world from which Odin rules the nine realms, and the dirty, flawed Earth peopled with humans was the heart and soul of the titular film Thor, released in 2011. As personified by the dry, plodding Chris Hemsworth, Thor is a big, lovable lunk, an archetype with bulging biceps.

In this second outing, however, Thor: The Dark World has become more incoherent and the writers have lost the tension and humor in the contrast between Asgard and Earth, even as Thor’s human love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, the wide-eyed ingenue scientist) is as unimpressed by finally being surrounded by the Gods in Asgard as Thor now is on Earth.

Before the creation of the universe was “ether”, a dark force that threatened to engulf all of the nine worlds. Fortunately, as we learn in the prologue, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is foiled by a young Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the ether is stolen in the proverbial nick of time, hidden deep, deep away where it’ll never be found.

Surprise, Jane ends up finding it as the every 900 year convergence of the worlds is poised to occur, causing Malekith to reawaken with his fierce “dark elves”. They plot to steal the ether back, which has rather inconveniently lodged itself within Jane’s body.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from "Thor: The Dark World"
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from “Thor: The Dark World”

That’s where the confusion really begins, as the film makers can’t seem to decide if we’re watching a comic book medieval battle movie set partially in contemporary America, or whether we’re watching a far-flung star battle across the worlds, so much so that Thor: The Dark World ultimately feels like a confusing mashup between Lord of the Rings and the later Star Wars movies.

In some battle scenes we are asked to accept the daft pretense that the Asgardians fight with sword and armor even as Malekith’s troops have spaceships and fast-moving shuttles that appear to shoot plasma weapons and deploy sophisticated cloaking devices. Later it turns out the Asgardians have these sophisticated weapons too, but as with too many Hollywood movies, they desperately need better targeting systems.

I really wanted to like this film, and there are definitely moments that are delightful fun, great self-referential scenes from the Marvel universe and lots of references to the mysterious organization S.H.I.E.L.D. that coordinates The Avengers and more [tip: the TV series Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has become well worth watching, more so than this film, actually].

Even better, thank goodness for Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his dry wit. He’s by far the most amusing part of the film and does a lot to offset the dull Thor that Hemsworth offers, barely cracking a smile throughout the movie. And then there’s Jane’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), who is the only believable character in the entire film, with her wisecracks and sarcasm. Take away Lok and Darcy and Thor: The Dark World would be unrelievedly tedious.

I’d say that the special effects were terrific, the alien worlds amazing and the armor, swords, sets, etc, all great, but we’ve seen so much of all of this that it fails to amaze any more. Indeed, I kept thinking of the alien worlds in the remastered Star Wars films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as I watched Thor: The Dark World. We just needed Jabba and some light sabers to complete the picture.

As an aside, I saw the film in an afternoon matinee in a low-budget theater in Longmont, Colorado and was shocked at what an unpleasant experience it was. I didn’t mind the little kids brought by thoughtless parents who didn’t realize it wasn’t a “G” rated movie (the kids ended up on parental laps) but rather the teens who wouldn’t shut up, chatting through the movie as if they were all hanging out in the basement at Mom’s house watching TV together. Yech. A strong argument for high quality home theater, indeed.

Finally should you go see Thor: The Dark World? If you’re a Marvel completist or a big fan of Chris Hemsworth, maybe. It’s not without its moments of entertainment and it’s probably two hours reasonably well spent. But is it a good addition to the Marvel film world? Not really. It’s really rather forgettable. Except for Loki. He was good.

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