Thor: The Dark World, the big budget Marvel Studios' sequel to Thor and The Avengers, is a dazzling, crowded, cheery mess of a film. This time around, the demigod has been retooled for a sillier yet (as the title would suggest) darker, more grim and violent story about brothers with undefined god-like powers. Chris Hemsworh returns as the Norse God of Thunder anchoring some pure ridiculousness and sci-fi fantasy action adventure around him within the Marvel continuity.
It's a testimate to Tom Hiddleton and his ongoing performance as the villain Loki that this or any of the previous films work at all. Hiddleston so captures the fun and theatricality of his character to drive the film forward. He's sorely missed in the first half of the film and whenever he's not on screen. Marvel's weakness is their lack of depth when it comes to villains (save for Loki) and here, the main baddie is the dark elf lord Malekith (an unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston), is no different. His thousands year long character arc is shoehorned into a few minutes and we never get much who this threat is or how his "CGI strawberry jam" powers work.
Veteran television director Alan Taylor (Mad Men, Game of Thrones) takes over from Kenneth Branagh and injects a lot of humour and flat out weirdness to the franchise with mixed results. Taylor embraces the strange fantasy elements of the characters bombarding them with scenes of inventive action. Most of the film goes from Thor and Loki to Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) at the expense of the rest of ensemble cast including Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg, Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun or Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif. Sir Anthony Hopkins as King Odin is barely there, despite a meaty role, as he's saddled with some wooden exposition and a manufactured feud with Thor.
What ultimately sinks Thor: The Dark World is the unremarkable relationship between Thor and Jane full along with some awful gender politics. Portman and Hemsworth's chemistry leaves much to be desired. They're constantly pining over each other as their awkward romance shoehorns itself into most of the otherworldly plotline. We constantly follow Jane (and her comic relief sidekicks, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård) and there are constant contrivances to bring her into the Asgardian war that sink the film's momentum and hurt the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe world building.
I couldn't begin to retell the plot or MacGuffin (the Aether) that drives the narrative. Another ancient (alien) race of dark elves are rustled back into existence, threaten Asgard and Earth in search of a great power. What bothered me so much about Thor: The Dark World is the continuation of the ill-defined nature of Asgard and the Nine Realms. Thor and Loki's powers are never established. Trickery, misdirection, and twists are constantly revealed and never explained. How characters magically appear and disappear from world to world is still a mystery as well how elves turn into rock monsters. I found it particularly amusing that the elves speak an subtitled alien language (Elvish?) despite the Asgardians continuing to speak perfect contemporary English.
Still, despite the multitude of story problems and character interactions, the film is utterly watchable and enjoyable with its lightweight charm, dazzling visuals, and popcorn fun. Its manically swift pace hides some of the more egregious scripting misfires yet it remains so confidently made, executed, and acted, it's admirable. Thor: The Dark World is full of confusing, manic entertainment rested on the shoulders of its talented cast and assured filmmaking.
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