Rating in Stars: ** (out of ****)
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Alan Taylor
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 11/08/13
At the start of almost every sequence, Thor: The Dark World seems like it’s heading in the heading in the direction of being a surprisingly, solidly interesting first sequel to Thor. By the time we reach the end of each sequence, though, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has regressed backward to the flippant and familiar. This process is tiresome in its repetition, because here is a narrative that has some real potential to make major steps toward building upon the direction in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be going. Instead, by giving us all the generic beats of a sequel that feels a lot more like wheel-spinning, the screenwriters offer only the familiar to underwhelming results.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is now the protector of the Nine Realms, on one of which he easily defeats a fearsome rock beast to the adulation of the crowd watching (“Maybe next time you should start with that,” exclaims one of his fellows, and we nod in agreement). He’s juggling this responsibility with that of rebuilding the peace left to die by his adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the disastrous events he facilitated and then committed on Earth (for which he will remain in prison) and the prospect of ascension to a throne currently filled by their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, once again displaying credence in an underwritten role).
The major conflict here shows up on Earth, though, because Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, looking disinterested), the woman Thor met and fell in love with on Earth during his last visit, has stumbled across an anomaly with the help of Darcy (Kat Dennings, a delight) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who kind of went insane after New York’s invasion by aliens. The anomaly’s source is a mysterious rift in the time-space continuum (I think) that leads her to the location of the Aether, a substance that predates existence (I think) and possesses some sort of power to do something. Honestly, by the time Jane is pointing out to the others that it will cause “spatial extrusions” (what?), the audience will have clocked out both intellectually and emotionally.
The film even offers the requisite villain whose main henchman is far more threatening and interesting. The former is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, embarrassingly hammy), whose major defining feature is looking like a steely-eyed, poodle-wearing cousin of Nosferatu, and the latter is the Kursed, played by Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje in a convincing physical performance that gains mileage from his silence. They are the last of the Dark Elves, an ancient race whose members (excepting a horde of expendable soldiers, of course) all died as a result of Malekith’s bid for power. It’s dull stuff and, once again, overshadowed by the continued, conflicted relationship between Thor and Loki (Hemsworth and a very good Hiddleston shine in these sequences).
After much to-do (a treasonous escape from his home realm of Asgard, a death, some more expository nonsense about a “Convergence” that I think created the universe), Thor and Malekith do battle that once again introduces a bit of creativity into the mix (The hero, his foe, and a bunch of other things around them dash in and out of different realms) before yet again devolving into murkiness (The final confrontation way overcompensates the lack of distinctive coloring in director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s imagery by dousing everything in red). It’s indicative of the constantly shifting process of regression inherent in Thor: The Dark World, which is at least an interesting mishap.