Movie review: “Thor: The Dark World”

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Thor: The Dark World

dir. Alan Taylor

Release Date: Nov 08, 13

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Though Thor: The Dark World certainly retains some of the first installment’s issues, one major area of improvement is in the film’s balance between laughs and operatic family disputes between various gods and their enemies. Where Kenneth Branagh made the lows as grave as possible, rendering the film’s fish-out-of-water comedy glaringly offbeat by comparison, Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) has a better handle on how to measure sometimes overlong stretches of explanations and furtive conversations about things that won’t matter at film’s end with light gags that play to Thor’s biggest strengths: the rapport between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), or their interactions with pretty much anyone else.

Continuing Iron Man 3’s theme of examining how each of the Avengers have dealt with the fallout from the chaos of that film’s New York alien invasion, Thor returns to Asgard to see that Loki is locked away for internment and to restore balance to the nine realms that he’ll one day be accountable for as king. Thor jovially dives into being a smirking war hero, though his heart remains on an inaccessible Earth, where his beloved Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) continues to search for him. Strange radiations signals lead Jane and her team of scientists to the Aether, explained as a force of unknowable, ever-shifting power that feeds on the life force of its hosts. Jane ends up infected with the Aether, leading Thor to bring her to Asgard to hopefully find a cure. This proves problematic when Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the depleted Dark Elf race, awakens to find the Aether and return all nine realms of the universe to total darkness.

Thor: The Dark World spends far too much time setting up the above, and ever-more subplots involving family melodrama with Thor and Loki, a romantic interest for Thor from the godly realm, a story involving Stellan Skarsgaard’s astrophysicist falling into madness after being possessed by a god, and a lot of dueling explanations of the Aether, which sees Taylor and his crew attempting to explain the concept of dark matter to a wide audience using magic and a lot of babble. The film’s first hour, while sustained by Hemsworth’s virtually infinite charms and Portman’s much-improved return performance, is often a slog simply because of The Dark World’s unwillingness to trim the fat and get to the part everybody’s waiting for: Thor laying waste to malevolent aliens while lots of Earthly property is destroyed.

And sure enough, once the film gets around to letting Loki out of his cell, Thor finally comes to life. Hiddleston has rightly become a cult hero for his Loki; in the first film, Loki was the most alive aspect, a true agent of chaos in a way that didn’t feel like the Joker ripoff that so many other recent movie villains have played at. Thor and Loki’s chemistry leads into a thrilling final showdown between Thor and Malekith, where the village of Greenwich is no match for godlike creatures taking advantage of small pockets of invisible teleportation walls, effectively turning The Dark World into the closest thing to a Portal movie that we’ll probably get for a while. Even though the very fabric of space and time hangs in the balance, The Dark World is at its best when it just lets go and starts having a good time.