Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World
By Matthew Huntley
November 14, 2013
The modern-day superhero movie has become so popular and prolific - not to mention complacent - that it’s managed to branch off from the traditional action genre and become one of its own. Marvel is the undisputed king of this category and any movie that takes place within its universe feels like another chapter in an ongoing saga, with virtually no end in sight. Thor: The Dark World is the latest of these, and although it has a few progressive story developments, as well as some nice touches of humor and emotion, it almost feels like it was made just to hold fans over until the next Avengers movie. It’s like an appetizer before the big feast.
Luckily for Thor and friends, appetizers are good things and the movie serves its purpose for the weekend action audience, even if it doesn’t quite feel like a significant, consequential experience, one in which we really care about what happens. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a throwaway sequel with a silly plot that literally has its characters jumping all over the place and we watch things unfold rather passively.
This is a shame, too, because there were moments when the screenplay had us thinking it might delve into something more substantive and character-driven, which would have been nice since Thor (Chris Hemsworth) remains a somewhat elusive and underdeveloped hero compared to his Marvel brethren like Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America). He has presence and personality, but neither of these go beyond the call of duty for the genre. Everything Thor does and says seems functional to the plot, and so we don’t feel like we get to know him on a personal or natural level.
Still, he’s getting there, as when he hints to his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), that he doesn’t want to inherit the throne and become King of Asgard (and therefore leader of the Nine Realms of the universe). Deep down, Thor, a demigod, feels he’s better suited to the battlefield and aiding his people on a more manual level. Plus, his heart belongs to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a mortal human from Earth to whom he promised to return. Two years after the events of the first movie, she slaps him and asks where he’s been. When he tells her he’s been saving the universe from total devastation, she says, “As excuses go, that’s not terrible.”
Meanwhile, Jane, who you might recall is a nuclear physicist, discovers with her interns Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Ian (Jonathan Howard) an anomalous portal in London. This turns out to be an effect of the Convergence, a phenomenon that occurs every 5,000 years when the Nine Realms align, which blurs the worlds together and sends the laws of physics into complete disarray. Jane’s mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), was already privy to this strange occurrence, which is why he’s going a little nuts and running around naked at Stonehenge.
While investigating the portal, Jane is infected by an ancient power source called the Aether, which is being sought by the evil and monosyllabic Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves, so he can bring about total darkness for all time. It’s never exactly clear what Malekith’s motivations are, so we’ll just say he has a bad history with Odin and, like most villains, craves omnipotence.
The latter is also what drives Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s adopted brother who wreaked havoc on Earth before being thwarted by the Avengers. He’s now confined to a dungeon, but with the Convergence imminent, and the newfound threat of Malekith, Thor has no choice but to commit treason against his father and enlist Loki’s help to save Jane and Asgard from certain destruction.
I’ve merely skimmed over the plot, but it’s just as well, since it’s so fast-paced and frivolous in the first place. As more Marvel movies continue to roll out, the specific details of Thor: The Dark World will likely have little bearing on our impressions of future installments. There are some notable deaths, to be sure, which I’ll leave for you to discover, but even these probably won’t play a large role going forward.
Despite its insignificance, there’s still a reason to see Thor: The Dark World, and that’s because it’s fun and has high energy, although these qualities typically come with the superhero territory. A better reason is the strong chemistry between the actors, especially Hopkins and Hiddleston, both of whom bring a sophistication and Shakespearian quality to their roles. Even though what they’re saying is trivial, they make it sound important and convincing.
As for the rest of the movie - the story, the action, the special effects, the standard climax in the middle of a large metropolitan city - it’s all fairly routine stuff, but enjoyable and satisfactory nonetheless. As a standard chapter in Marvel’s cinematic chronicles, Thor: The Dark World hopefully serves as a bridge to something more meaningful and challenging, at least as far as superhero movies go. And something better needs to come along soon, because there’s going to come a point where a two-hour distraction like this simply isn’t enough.