With Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba. Written by Christopher L. Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Alan Taylor. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content. 112 minutes.
Movie critics offer what they hope are informed opinions, but we also bring our biases and experiences to the table and sometimes they’re worth noting. This critic was a DC Comics fan (Superman, Batman, the Flash) and didn’t read Marvel Comics at all. Thus as Marvel characters have taken over our movie screens it’s been interesting to this outsider to note what works and what doesn’t. Movies where the superheroes are interesting characters who say witty and dramatic things between the special effects turn out to be a lot of fun: the first and third “Iron Man,” the “X-Men” movies, “The Avengers.”
Then there are the clunkers, some of them directed by major directors like Ang Lee (“The Hulk”) and Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”). In the case of “The Hulk,” they simply ignored the first film and tried again, not really getting the character right until “The Avengers.” In the case of “Thor,” having made a thudding bore the first time out, they’ve come back to give us a second helping with THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Perhaps devotees of the comic book will find this engaging, but it is an otherwise hilarious mess that makes the film’s closing promise (“Thor will be back”) seem more like a threat.
It opens with a deadly infodump in which we are told how Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father had to defeat the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) when they were trying to take over the Nine Realms with their horrific weapon the Aether. Are you taking notes? This will be on the final. In the present, Odin is dealing with his two sons. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the whiny and annoying villain from “The Avengers,” faces his father’s wrath although his mom Frigga (Rene Russo) still loves him. Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been fighting battles in the various realms while pining for his mortal girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Jane, back on Earth, hasn’t seen nor heard from him in two years.
Now, however, the Nine Realms are lining up for a rare “convergence.” Jane has accidentally absorbed the Aether, reawakening Malekith who is ready to destroy Asgard, where Odin is eager to hand the throne to Thor. There’s much more, and it’s all at about the same level. We go from Heimdall (Idris Elba), who finds it increasingly difficult to serve as guardian of the entranceway to Asgard to scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who was last seen running around naked at Stonehenge instead of answering his calls from Jane.
There’s more––much more, but why go on? You won’t care about any of this unless you grew up and are deeply invested in the characters and stories from the comics. By the time one gets to the climactic battle, the filmmakers have given up trying to make sense, with Thor and Malekith battling across different realms, a prehistoric monster showing up in London, Asgardians with swords fighting Dark Elves with energy weapons, and Erik finally putting his pants on. There’s even a character who shows up in one of the two closing credit scenes simply to tease a future movie.
In fact, that’s the problem with “Thor: The Dark World.” It’s more about feeding the franchise than anything else. The performances are embarrassing. Hopkins is at his hammy worst, Portman is once again reduced to eye candy no matter how many scientific “explanations” she gives, and Hemsworth––who was so interesting in the recent “Rush”––stumbles through the clunky dialogue as if he’s reading the lines phonetically. A few final twists in the plot may leave many scratching their heads trying to make sense of it.
Having not read the comics and taking the “Thor” movies at face value, this critic is left wondering if these movies would even be getting made if he wasn’t one of “The Avengers.” For all the references and plugs for the previous movies and the current “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, this is a movie that seems unable to find any justification for its own existence.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.