Thor: The Dark World tries very hard not to look like a superhero… MoreThor: The Dark World tries very hard not to look like a superhero movie. The cinematography, the art direction, the whole visual sensibility is striving so hard to be a fantasy epic a la Lord of the Rings that it's almost jarring. But it's all just fancy dress. Thor, to its bones, is yet another fluffy-but-entertaining Marvel Studios superhero showcase, full of derring-do and comic relief and amazing action and not much else. Were it not for the ever complicated relationship between Thor and his sinister stepbrother, I'd almost have to call the whole film rote.
Marvel Studios' Phase Two is in full swing now, and things have settled into a nice little groove. Iron Man 3 showed us the aftermath of The Avengers and its effect on Tony Stark's life, and now Thor: The Dark World is here to do the same (though it's a little disconcerting that Marvel's newest films seem more interested in looking back at the past than building towards an interesting future). While Iron Man dealt with the psychological impact of the Battle of New York, however, Thor deals with the fallout in the house of Odin when Loki is called to task for the crimes he's committed. Of course, that's not the actual plot-- nope, instead we are treated to an invasion of Dark Elves (seriously?) and an alignment of the Nine Realms as the impetus for our next Asgardian adventure. But Thor and Loki's story is by far the strongest aspect of this film; the Dark Elves and their malevolent master Malekith (sorry-- couldn't resist) are little more than proxies in the film, never given any kind of humanizing motivation beyond "we want to destroy the universe because we don't like it!" Not that they're all that bad-- Christopher Eccleston brings enough sturm and drang to his two-faced space elf that you don't mind TOO much that he's about as interesting as a sack of wet cardboard. But they're just there to move the plot along; all the interesting stuff has to do with Thor, Loki, and to a lesser extent, Jane Foster, who gets to be the fish-out-of-water this time in a nice reversal of the first film's "Thor comes to Earth" plot. In fact, Jane gets to do a lot in this movie-- she's partially responsible for saving the whole universe! It's a fun ride that doesn't add a lot to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (it's vaguely episodic, so it's appropriate that this is directed by T.V. alum Alan Taylor), but it doesn't have to; two hours of no-frills, no-strings entertainment.
The film starts with a history lesson: back before the universe existed, there was darkness, from which the Dark Elves emerged (really, how is ANYONE supposed to take the concept of "dark Elves" seriously?). They wanted to destroy the universe with their magical McGuffin, the Aether, during the last celestial alignment, but (in a big Lord of the Rings-esq battle sequence) the Asgardians stopped them and hid the McGuffin somewhere no one would ever, EVER find it. Smash cut to 5,000 years later, and Jane Foster stumbles across and absorbs the thing while she's tracking down quantum anomalies in her quest to reunite with her beefcake champion, the God of Thunder. This wakes the last of the Dark Elves from their space-sleep, and they go to get the Aether from her. Thor, concerned for her safety, has brought her to Asgard (thanks to the mysteriously good-as-new Bifrost), and hijinks ensue; the Dark Elves then attack the Golden City and lay waste to a lot of it, killing Thor's mother Frigga before being forced to withdraw. This pisses off the Thunder God, obviously, and so he devises a plan to track down Malekith and destroy him after he draws the Aether out of Jane. But in order to do it, he needs the help of the one man who can travel through the Nine Realms with impunity: Loki, god of mischief, now a prisoner of Asgard for the crimes he committed against Earth. In true buddy-cop fashion, the two are forced into an uneasy alliance as Thor smuggles Loki out of prison and makes a break for the border. Eventually, they find Malekith, and... well, things don't go exactly as planned, setting things up for the inevitable final confrontation on Earth (Greenwich, to be exact). Physics gets all wonky as the realms align, but things do get smashed, and smashed good.
Chris Hemsworth is back for his third round as the towering, muscular Nordic God of Thunder, and as ever, he is up to the challenge. Thor is a bit dull this time around, though, as all of his energy is directed towards getting back together with Jane; monogamy has robbed the Viking of much of his vitality and exhuberance. Still, when the time comes to bring the hammer down, he acquits himself admirably-- and his comic timing is still pretty sharp. (more to come)