Directed by Alan Taylor
After taking the traitorous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) back to Asgard to stand trial for his attack on Earth, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been hard at work doing what Gods of Thunder do: fighting off bands of marauders in glorious battle and drinking heartily in glorious celebration. Oh, and pining away like a schoolgirl for the physicist love of his life (Natalie Portman) he had to leave behind on Earth due to his duties in the heavens. Lucky for him, she has just been poisoned by a mythical, mystical power source which can be used to uncreate the universe if you happen to know how. What are the odds?
“Thor: The Dark World” is a much bigger film than the first, existing on a much larger canvas. With the freedom to roam farther afield than just New Mexico, the new team behind this new “Thor” have opened up his world, delving into its “mythology” so to speak. While the first film hinted at the other worlds beyond Earth, “The Dark World” goes full bore, opening up not just Asgard itself but all of the other Nine Realms (which are naturally on the verge of a universe destroying Convergence) via the gorgeous production design of Charles Wood who gives each area of the film its own unique feel. Right before they’re destroyed in one of the films many, increasingly over the top action scenes, notably an aerial assault on Asgard by a force of Dark Elves out to steal Ms. Portman’s evil mojo after Thor whisks there to search for a cure.
Actually “large” isn’t really the right word ? “broad,” that’s what I’m looking for. The increased scale and stakes quickly take precedence over the smaller pleasures the first film occasionally offered, leaving little but table scrapings for anyone but the Brothers Odinson. Most of the side characters have even less to do, and less screen time to do it in, than they did in the first film, with only old vets like Hopkins and Skarsgård able to make any impression. Though in Skarsgård’s case that might be because most of his dialogue is delivered without pants.
It’s not just a matter of screen time either; though she is in most of the film, Natalie Portman spends an entire act doing nothing but following Thor mutely around, except for the periods when she’s being carried by him. There seems to be some understanding by the writers (all freaking five of them) that she should be involved in some way, but she’s a girl and not even one with a sword or ninja skills or anything, so what is she going to do? When they do finally work that out late, late in the film, what they come up with is ? turning knobs on a remote control.
But that’s probably because they know where their bread is buttered; there is no question but “Thor: The Dark World” works best when Hiddleston is on screen–it’s no accident he’s the first major character we meet–and is decidedly weaker when he’s not. All of the complexity that made him such a great villain the first time around makes him a great anti-villain here as Thor reluctantly teams up with him to smuggle Jane out of Asgard, by far the best sequence of the film as the two spar like the siblings they are and regret the distance between them. Loki can’t help but lash out even at the people he still loves because he thinks that’s what’s expected of him. Thor himself also continues to develop, realizing that becoming like his father Odin is not necessarily what he wants out of life; Hemsworth continues to develop as an actor as well, and if wounded pain is the most we can get out of him, he does it well.
Other than the two of them though? the actual villains themselves are worst off of all, basically prosthetic monsters that only exist because someone’s got to be trying to destroy the universe. Veteran television director Alan Taylor, picking up the reins from Kenneth Branagh, tries his best, but he is notably better at the breathtaking action sequences than the more human ones which he generally avoids in favor of a cheap laugh. A good cheap laugh to be sure–mostly from Skarsgård or the returning Dennings–but because it comes from characters so cut off from the rest of the film it often feels out of place and mood whiplash may occur. There are lots of good elements here, but there’s been no attempt to syncretize it all.
But maybe that is more than we could hope to get in a big budget sequel aiming to get the blood up at the moment rather than linger in the memory. On that scale, it does what it does well enough, and still has the best villain in the current Marvel films, which certainly gives it a leg up on most action movie sequels.