Watching the Marvel catalog of characters and stories become billion dollar franchises means that 30 years of comic-book reading wasn’t just me being a nerd. It prepared me for an era when superhero movies would become the successful status quo.
I like the Marvel movies for several reasons. First, they adapt stories I’ve been eagerly devouring since I was 7 years old. Second, they validate my geek lifestyle. Third—and most importantly—they allow movies like “Thor: The Dark World” to exist and provide flicks that throw all sorts of crazy, entertaining nonsense on the big screen. I mean, seriously: I’m watching a movie about a Norse god superhero who travels between dimensional realms via a rainbow bridge, and in one scene he’s beating a rock giant to a pulp with a hammer. In the next scene, he pilots a futuristic spacecraft through Asgard like something right out of “Star Wars.”
The Marvel universe is a wonderful, weird piece of real estate, and nowhere is that more true than in Thor’s neighborhood. The first Thor remained an earnest, compact story that felt exceptionally functional—like a necessary prequel to set up what was going to happen in “Avengers.” We had Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the cocky warrior, and his trickster brother, Loki (the excellent Tom Hiddleston), both vying to assume the throne of Asgard from their uptight father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). It was a little Shakespeare and a little science fiction that resulted in an inoffensive, entertaining movie.
By contrast, “Thor: The Dark World” sheds earnestness in favor of a completely whackadoo story about a would-be universe conqueror named “Maleketh,” the dark elf who’s been holding quite the grudge. He looks to take revenge on the Asgardians, who exiled him millennia’s before. Consequently, Earth might be collateral damage in the crossfire.
A lot of the themes from the first film are recycled into the second “Thor.” Fortunately, they’re pretty compelling themes that remain fresh even through a sequel. Thor wants to be a good son, but his father has a limited world view and seems ambivalent to the threat that Maleketh poses to other worlds. Turns out, Odin is an elitist snob and has no love for earthlings. In order to stop the rising evil, Thor enlists the aid of the imprisoned Loki. Since he’s tried to kill Thor a whole slew of times, and just engineered an alien invasion of Earth, this might not exactly qualify “the best laid plan.”
When they first announced the Thor movies, part of me believed the series would be a cross between Flash Gordon and Dolph Lundgren’s “Masters of the Universe.” And not in a good way. However, an enthusiastic cast and a competent director generated a pleasant surprise.
Director Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) does a great job navigating the many moving parts of a movie like “Thor,” which constantly straddles the line between fantasy, science fiction and epic adventure. The biggest issue I have with the first Thor comes from the massive dynamic shift between the mystical world of Asgard and the earthbound scenes. In “Thor: The Dark World,” Taylor manages to find just the right balance, which in turn keeps the movie somewhat grounded in spite of its grand design.
Normally, the problem with movies like this is their tendency to try to be too many things to too many people all at once. Ultimately, this pitfall often results in a film failing to fulfill any of its intended goals. While I can’t accuse “Thor: The Dark World” of achieving everything, it does a pretty good job of delivering a fun, epic, big movie without slighting details—i.e. character development. The film nurtures the characters into fruition and even offers a romantic storyline that manages to hold its own, which says a lot for a film that boasts a lot of plot content.
Much of the film’s success must be credited to a cast so wonderfully game to play in this sandbox. Hemsworth and Hiddleston manage to bring weight and gravitas to their roles—something that could easily have descended into camp. Rounding out the very spry cast are Natalie Portman and Stellan Sarsgard, who help make the whole enterprise feel legitimate. Yes, they’re picking up a paycheck, but the authenticity that permeates their performances suggest they have a deeper connection with their roles and the story.
“Thor: The Dark World” is, if nothing else, a lot of fun. It’s not afraid to be a loud and occasionally garish spectacle. Sure, no one is putting together a “For Your Consideration” campaign for the work being done here, but we never get the feeling that anyone is phoning it in either. For a big-budget film, that’s an accomplishment.
Thor: The Dark World
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston
Directed by Alan Taylor