Roughly two years after the events of the first Thor film and an unspecified time after THE AVENGERS, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Earth after quelling assorted conflicts on several worlds in the nine realms of Norse myth, a job that has his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), sizing him up as next in line for the throne of Asgard, the home of the gods. Once on Earth, Thor finds that his love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), is inadvertently the host to the Aether, a major-league power source coveted by the dark elf Malekith (Christpher Eccleston), who seeks not only to exact vengeance for Asgard's long ago victory over and near-destruction of his race, but also to destroy all nine realms of existence when they perfectly align for the first time in ages. Needless to say, Thor has to save Jane from the force that has taken up residence in her body and kick Malekith's elven ass once and for all while preventing the complete and utter destruction of everything, but the odds are very much stacked against him and the success of his plan depends on the participation of his imprisoned evil/amoral step-brother and god of mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Will Thor save Jane and the universe, and will Loki betray his brother or find redemption?
THOR: THE DARK world is a more entertaining followup to the the first Thor flick, largely because the origin minutia and setup is out of the way, and this time around what we get is a pretty-to-look-at spectacle, replete with romance, action, and humor. In short, if you're looking for an exciting piece of light entertainment that pretty much subscribes to the modern formula of a popcorn-muncher, you'll probably dig it. I certainly enjoyed it, but I have to clarify that I enjoyed it as a brain-optional romp where the plot and character development take a backseat to the action and the visual wonders wrought by CGI. And what there is of a plot contains a number of surprises that I won't spoil, but here's the short list of elements worth considering:
- I saw the film in 3D. The 3D adds absolutely nothing to the proceedings, so save your money and see the regular version instead.
- The film's director, Alan Taylor, has helmed several episodes of GAME OF THRONES, and it shows. Some of the scenes in Odin's throne room felt like we were in King's Landing rather than Asgard.
- Tom Hiddleston once again steals the movie with his indelible portrayal of Loki. In fact, I dare say he's the best thing in the entire film. If you enjoyed his previous outings in the role, you won't be disappointed.
- Christopher Ecclestion as Malekith certainly wields considerable power and has an army of heavily-armed elven warriors who fly about in massive spaceships and smaller fighters, but he's really not that interesting as a villain. He's simply there to be a powerful threat with little definition of who he is, and his army and their battle scenes are pretty much a rehash of the Chitauri aliens from THE AVENGERS (who weren't that interesting in the first place). The screen time spent on Malekith and his forces would have been better spent on further exploration of Loki's arc.
- The romance between Thor and Jane continued to fail to arouse any interest from me but the individual viewer's mileage may vary. Jane Foster is a character I've loathed since I was five years old and even her updated/re-imagined iteration for the 2000's leaves me apathetic. I much prefer Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but she's once again given rather short shrift. Elaborating on her status as Jane's romantic competition would immeasurably add to the proceedings, especially since all she has to do is wait until the mortal Jane inevitably grows old and croaks, but nothing is made of the rivalry save for Sif cutting Foster a couple of nasty looks.
- The Warriors Three — Fandral the dashing (Zachary Levi), Volstagg the voluminous (Ray Stevenson), and Hogun the grim (Tadanobu Asano) — are on hand, but Hogun is left to stay with people in Vanaheim early in the story, so Sif more or less takes his place. I do NOT dig splitting up the Warriors Three...
- The film's final act plays out like a game of Portal taken to ridiculous extremes.
- The movie brings the larger-than-life superhero action, and at times it was almost like I could feel the blows from Mjolnir.
- One of the most endearing hallmarks of the Marvel Age of comics was its sense of humor, and the film features strong and very funny lashings of that aspect. There are those who may take issue with it, but I felt the humor fit just perfectly.
- As per usual for Marvel movies, the viewer is advised to stay all the way through the credits at the end. This time there are two Easter egg sequences, the first of which features an interesting piece of casting for a certain character who makes his live-action debut here, while setting up part of the plot for what I'm predicting will be THE AVENGERS 3...
Bottom line: THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a serviceable entry in the Marvel movie tapestry, but it's more of a snack than meal. I had fun with it but I won't be running out to see it again anytime soon. And a close friend in England saw it when it opened in the U.K. and immediately wrote me to rant about how he felt it was the worst Marvel movie ever, I love the guy like a brother but we are frequently at odds when it comes to our opinions on movies, so I called bullshit on his opinion by writing back to ask if it could possibly be worse than DAREDEVIL or either of those appalling Fantastic Four movies. He unequivocally answered "no," so make of that what you will. (NOTE: Since first posting this review, my friend in England wrote in to clarify that he meant he felt the movie was the worst film thus far fro Marvel Studios. DAREDEVIL and the abominations that are the two Fantastic Four flicks were not made by Marvel Studios. Just so we're clear on that point.)