A film review by Craig J. Koban November 15, 2013


2013, PG-13, 112 mins.


Chris Hemsworth as Thor  /  Natalie Portman as Jane Foster  /  Anthony Hopkins as Odin  /  Rene Russo as Frigga  /  Tom Hiddleston as Loki  /  Idris Elba as Heimdall  /  Jaimie Alexander as Sif  /  Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig  /  Zachary Levi as Fandral  /  Christopher Eccleston as Malekith  /  Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim / Kurse  /  Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis  /  Tadanobu Asano as Hogun  /  Clive Russell as Tyr

Directed by Alan Taylor  /  Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely


There's a very sly scene late in THOR: THE DARK WORLD that would arguably make even the perpetually poker faced Odin giggle.  

In his cosmic travels, the Asgardian super hero (Chris Hemsworth) once again finds himself transported to Earth to battle against a nefarious threat that could eradicate all of mankind, but along the way he manages to visit the London flat of his sort-of mortal girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).  He enters through the door, sees a coat rack, and proceeds to hang Mjolnir – his mighty war hammer that only he can possess and wield – upside down on one of the hooks next to the coats.  Thor might be a near invincible being with god-like powers, but he’s still a courteous gentleman when he’s a guest at someone’s home. 

It’s droll little fleeting moments like this one that makes the sequel to THOR so giddily enjoyable.  The 2011 introductory installment to the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Marvel Comics creation was kind of thankless, if not the most difficult super hero property to pull off effectively and credibly compared to, say, Iron Man or Spider-man, especially when one considers Thor’s fantasy and otherworldly trappings. Thankfully, director Kenneth Branagh knew precisely how to harness the character’s larger-than-life and grandiose theatricality while, at the same time, not forgetting to have fun with the inherent material.  

Branagh is gone this time, though, from behind the director’s chair, replaced by Alan Taylor, a director more known for small screen fare (GAME OF THRONES).  It’s clear that Taylor understands how to capture the swashbuckling adventure spirit of the Thor universe, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD is considerable fun in parts, but he’s certainly not Branagh’s equal when it comes to stylistic robustness.  Regrettable as well is the fact that Taylor can’t seem to bring discipline to a script that’s kind of all over the map and unfocused.  It seems to take an awfully long time for THOR: THE DARK WORLD to build to something weighty and tangible, which is to its detriment. 



Still, this sequel benefits greatly from its well-assembled and charming cast.  Hemsworth – striking, rugged, and charismatic – returns as the titular red-caped and hammer throwing hero, and the film begins with a lengthy – and somewhat clunky – prologue that details the past war between Thor’s papa, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, bringing a cheeky, yet uber serious Shakespearian relish and aplomb to his role) and the dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wishes to, yup, destroy the universe utilizing a sought after weapon known as the Aether.  Flashforward to the present and we see Thor leading the charge of the Asgardian army, trying to restore peace and order to the Nine Realms.  This has definitely not helped with his love life, as he left Jane back on Earth during the conclusion of the first film, leaving the astrophysicist broken hearted and swooning for the beefy and easy-on-the-eyes god. 

Well, it appears that Aether – which is kind of a free-flowing red misty cloud – makes its presence felt to Jane when she investigates some decidedly unnatural phenomenon on Earth, which has the negative side effect of triggering the return of the long dormant Malekith.  Sensing that he can finally possess the Aether, Melekith plots his vengeance against Odin and Asgard, but before that Thor reacquaints himself with Jane, who now seems to have been possessed by the spirit of Aether, which will slowly kill her if not dealt with.  With Jane’s condition worsening, Thor whisks her back to Asgard for care, but then soon learns that Malekith is about to wage his own war to end all wars, which will come at the heels of the Nine Realms coming in perfect alignment (a highly rare event that will spell doom, of course).  Sensing that he will need more assistance than what his closest allies have to offer, Thor must then turn to his estranged and now imprisoned brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for assistance…but can he ever be truly trusted? 

Again, THOR; THE DARK WORLD is saved, I think, by its merry cast, especially by the notable chemistry of Hemsworth and Hiddleston, who collectively bring a whole new layer of meaning to the phrase sibling rivalry.  Hemsworth himself – so pitch perfectly cast as Thor – perhaps does not get enough credit for being a decent actor at the expense of his rugged/pretty-boy façade.  He has the tricky task of playing up to Thor’s iconic stature without it coming off as high camp; he seems to always acknowledge the silliness of the character while also playing him with a tactful solemnity.  Hiddleston, so devilishly good playing his duplicitous minded antagonist, brings a much-needed layer of intrigue and tension to the film.  A little bit of Loki goes an awfully long way. 

However, Loki’s appearance only reveals what a poorly developed and disinteresting villain Malekith is, and why get such a decent actor like Eccleston if you’re just going to burry him under pounds of makeup and alter his voice in post-production?  He’s not really given enough screen time to be fully nurtured as a worthy baddie, not to mention that his evil motives are of the one-note I want to destroy the universe variety.  Exacerbating this is the film’s screenplay, which meanders from one subplot to another and back and forth between Earth and Asgard a bit too haphazardly for its own good.  When the film does manage to build to an epically staged and fairly novel battle – pitting Thor versus Melekith that is waged on Earth and in other realms via some inconveniently placed teleportation ripples in space – THOR: THE DARK WORLD finally begins to develop a pulse of interest…along with just about any scenes involving Thor and Loki.  Alas, it’s the build-up to the thrilling climax that’s lacking a bit. 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD certainly looks as sensational as just about any other Marvel Studios property (although the post-converted 3D here adds little to the experience of immersing yourself in it).  The action sequences are suitably bombastic, energetic, and involving.  Yet, all of the lively moments of Hemswoth’s flying Norse specimen in all of his glory can’t help save a somewhat unbalanced and spotty narrative.   The film also seems to drop the ball – or should I say hammer? – when it comes to the love story involving Thor and Jane, which has never really elevated itself beyond what was presented in the first entry (exchanging lustful glances, near-kiss moments, yadda yadda).  Portman is an unwaveringly luminous and talented on-screen presence, but here she’s just a victim of a screenplay that never seems to really know what to do with her. 

I loved the first THOR to death.  I commented in my review that it was like witnessing classic Jack Kirby comic panels come lovingly to life.  I wanted, in turn, to love this sequel, and I certainly thought that it was breezy and agreeably exhilarating in parts.  Yet, THOR: THE DARK WORLD lacks narrative order and a truly invigorating and memorable screen villain to rival what Loki brought to the table before for me to genuinely give it a supportive recommendation.  It also could have used a lot more amusingly self-aware scenes like the aforementioned one of Thor in the London flat.  To be fair, it does have another, as the hero – when separated from his hammer – asks for directions as to how to get to Greenwich…and then promptly boards the train to the starry eyed amazement of a female passenger.  Even all-powerful deities that can fly, control thunder, and lead armies in the thousands are not too vain and proud to utilize public transportation.

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