Thor 2: The Dark World fun but not great
By KATHRYN STUTZ
Movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—from the revolutionary first Iron Man to the capstone The Avengers and onwards—promise a well constructed blend of big-budget action and satisfactory acting for casual movie-goers, and stories with careful continuity and clever inter-movie references for more dedicated fans.
Thor 2: The Dark World—with a few small stumbles—lives up to this promise.
Thor, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, is a boisterous warrior, with a surprisingly thoughtful demeanor, from a world alien to our own. He begins the movie in the midst of celebration for the newly won peace in the Nine Realms. King Odin of Asgard, Thor’s father, rules these worlds.
Thor, however, is discontent, and dogged by his memories of his time on Earth, and of his mortal friends, including Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist who is more than a little head-over-heels for Thor. Then, unsurprisingly, an enemy arises who must be defeated, and things take a turn for the “Dark World.”
Though the truly breathless speed of action and dialogue does not pick up until the second half, the movie is reasonably well paced and holds attention well, particularly when highlighting its best-written characters: Jane Foster’s human colleagues, the slightly-crazy mythology-enthused Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Jane’s back-talking intern, are well rounded and funny.
However, the indisputable best part of the film is any scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the estranged adoptive brother of Thor. Consistently unpredictable, Loki is snarky and witty, and yet also damaged and defensive, and his every scene reflects this. He is the source of the film’s best humor, but remains a very serious character. In one brilliantly fast sequence, his running commentary on events elicits a laugh with nearly every line.
This same silver-tongued Loki acted as the main villain in The Avengers, but unfortunately takes a smaller role in Thor 2. A new enemy, the Dark Elf Malekith (a nearly unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston) drives the plot, and though he does succeed in making the stakes seem high, in his plot to drive the universe back to darkness, Malekith is nowhere near as interesting as Loki. Malekith’s motivations are simple, but not emotional, or really even understandable.
The director of the movie, Alan Taylor, has previously done his best known work as an episode director on the television show Game of Thrones, and in Thor 2, it shows. The movie is darker in tone and more refined in style than has been seen from the Thor franchise, echoing the cinematic style of Thrones. The (mostly CGI) sets are appropriately medieval in Asgard, and rather romantically rainy in England, where most of the film’s action on Earth takes place. The sky over London is a perpetual pearly grey, and leaves rustle ominously in the breeze like in a Gothic novel.
One admirable thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to have dedicated itself to is acknowledging emotional fall-out. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark—Iron Man—was visibly affected by the traumatic events he experienced in the movie The Avengers; similarly, the characters of Thor 2, both human and Asgardian, reflect the emotional changes of battle, culture shock and whatever else the movie must thrust upon them. This adds a great degree of realism to a movie that feels, at times, utterly unrealistic, given its unusual blend of science fiction and Norse-mythology-based fantasy.
Thor 2 is not the strongest movie in the Marvel Universe; it is not even the strongest Marvel movie recently. However, it is a worthy addition to the recent “second-generation” of post-The-Avengers films. It does not stand out, but it fits in. The same balance of ever-darker times and quick humor that carried Iron Man 3 elevates Thor 2 to a similar level.
The stakes are higher, but the jokes are funnier to compensate.
When seeing Thor 2: The Dark World, be sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits. Like in The Avengers, there are two post-credit scenes which are important for the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as highly amusing.
Thor 2: The Dark World is currently in theaters. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.