Directed by: Alan Taylor
What Works: Thor: The Dark World continues most of what worked about the original film. One of the key strengths of that picture, and of all the Marvel Avengers movies, has been the casting. Chris Hemsworth returns in the title role and he continues to be a capable leading man. The actor’s considerable screen presence is all the more impressive given the fact that the script’s treatment of Thor as a character is pretty uninspired and yet Hemsworth remains watchable throughout the film. Also returning for The Dark World is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Hiddleston managed to steal The Avengers out from under that film’s impressive ensemble cast. Perhaps realizing what they’ve got, the filmmakers of The Dark World allow Loki more screen time here than in either the original Thor or The Avengers and Hiddleston injects a lot of energy into his scenes. In fact, Hiddleston’s performance is so overpowering that Loki and the movie as a whole risk becoming a joke in the same way that Freddy Krueger’s fiendish wit became a liability in the latter entries of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. But it isn’t a detriment yet and the consistent humor of The Dark World adds a lot to the enjoyableness of the film while also distinguishing it from many other self-serious superhero and fantasy pictures. The action sequences are fun, frequently exceeding those in the original Thor, and the filmmakers smartly decide to put Jane (Natalie Portman) in a central role, making her an active participant in the action instead of just a love interest who delivers expository dialogue.
What Doesn’t: Thor: The Dark World tends to exacerbate the flaws of the first movie. In the original picture Thor was introduced as an immature man-child who eventually learned the virtues of patience and humility. This character arc was done perfunctorily but this, along with Thor’s growing romance with Jane and his disintegrating relationship with Loki, gave the character and the first movie a sense of shape and direction. The Dark World does nothing with Thor. He shows up and saves the day but there is nothing going on beneath the surface. Every character in the movie ends this story in virtually the same position that they entered it. Thor learns nothing about himself, his romance with Jane is no different, and Loki is still Loki. Despite the fact that this film features nearly constant action, the filmmakers are rarely able to convey a sense of peril. Like a lot of recent sci-fi action movies, the stakes are so high—the destruction of the universe in this case—that it’s all too abstract for the viewer to grasp. The movie needs something concrete at stake but the filmmakers’ unwillingness to commit to anything creative or substantive results in a picture that plays everything too safe and is sometimes quite cowardly. At one point a critical character is killed and this is a surprising choice that elevates the stakes and raises the profile of what is otherwise a very lame villain. But in the end the assumedly deceased character is restored to life, which is a cheat and a copout that undermines the integrity of the movie. Many other elements of The Dark World are familiar from other sci-fi and superhero movies. The climax is particular recalls the same scenario as seen in the ending of the original X-Men, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man.
Bottom Line: Like the original film, Thor: The Dark World has a nagging sense of underachievement but in terms of popcorn entertainment it makes for an enjoyable afternoon at the movies.
Episode: #466 (November 17, 2013)