Thor: The Dark World may be little more than a mash-up of story lines and visuals from other fantasy/sci-fi films, but the arrangement of said parts is so entertaining that the citations barely matter. Its origin story out of the way, Alan Taylor’s sequel is more confident in its execution and even manages to have more fun than its predecessor’s “fish out of water” tale.
With a storybook opening straight out of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Dark World introduces prior generation baddies the dark elves though a fateful battle, a manufactured evil weapon that isn’t destroyed, and a dormant villain in their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, sporting copious make-up). Meanwhile in the present, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his cronies traverse the nine realms, restoring order with their battle prowess and frequent wit. This combination of cheekiness and badass action, which flopped in the past two Iron Man films, continues its dominance here, suggesting that Thor may be Marvel’s finest cinematic creation outside of the X-Men. His otherworldliness gives the films an “anything goes” license, so when his hammer comes flying out of nowhere and, grabbing hold, he goes flying with it, that’s just the way things are.
Such winning liberties inspire a steady stream of quality adventure on Thor’s home of Asgard and on the more rule-defined Earth, where scientific curiosity by his human paramour Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) leads to her contamination by Malekith’s all-powerful aether. The discovery awakens the dark elf and prompts a long-planned (and visually impressive) assault on Asgard that not even king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) can repel. Of greater significance than these special effects, whose slickness often resemble those of the Star Wars prequels, is the gradually increased role of Loki (Tom Hiddleston, relishing each line). Ever the scene stealer, Thor’s treacherous brother adds a layer of uncertainty to already trying times as his assistance is required to save the universe.
Building toward its inevitable epic showdown, The Dark World maintains its freewheeling tone and sidesteps a few issues that have hampered many of this year’s blockbusters. Whereas Man of Steel’s endless final fight quickly grows repetitious, this pair of gifted warriors’ city-threatening battle comes with the far less predictable twist of shooting through the aligned nine realms via interplanetary portals. The Dark World additionally finds time in the middle of this climactic set piece for a smart London Underground gag, delivering humor that’s true to the hammer god’s ways and further sets his films apart from his fellow Avengers. Assured touches like these downgrade the fuzziness of Loki’s most significant trick, the ill-explained “science” of Jane and her colleagues, and the waste of a good Chris O’Dowd to minor missteps. While such hiccups have been known to sink less capable superhero movies, with Thor around they’re quickly forgotten.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.
Thor: The Dark World is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.