Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely
Directed by Alan Taylor
Sometimes, it’s the small moments in which you find joy. So it goes with Thor: The Dark World, a movie that frequently botches the big-picture details but balances out the messiness on the whole with minute gags, throwaway lines, and offhand glances that are laid-back and assured. The returning cast members have enough built-in chemistry, and the script has enough moments of genuine wit and cleverness, that Thor: The Dark World doesn’t sink despite being weighed down with an enormously, unnecessarily convoluted story.
Boiling it down to the most basic terms, our man Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has to stop an evil being and his nasty friends from controlling the Nine Realms by way of a powerful red fluid that might as well be literally called the MacGuffin. The ways in which this familiar plot are expanded and twisted around are enough to give you a headache. It is with a wearying sigh that Thor: The Dark World begins, as Thor’s father, Asgard’s ruler Odin (Anthony Hopkins), narrates about that evil being, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, halfway-ready to looking like Max Schreck as Nosferatu), and his desire to rule over all life. The mythology of Asgard, its place in the Nine Realms, and all related trappings, so wisely treated as secondary in the 2011 Thor, take center stage in The Dark World. This time, it’s Thor’s fish-out-of-water status on Earth that’s put on the backburners. In its weakest moments, the movie feels like every other blockbuster, layering on the epic explosions to a mind-numbing degree and including wannabe portentous dialogue such as, “The convergence…has returned.”
Perhaps it is not terribly coincidental, then, that Thor: The Dark World improves mightily with the full-throated return of its best character, Loki (an ever-gleeful Tom Hiddleston). Thrown in Asgard’s dungeon at the opening by Odin, Loki stews and mopes for the first third or so, until, for reasons too complicated to describe, Thor comes to him, hat in proverbial hand, looking to him and his trademark trickery for help. Once Loki is allowed to interact with more than just his own shadow, the movie livens up. With Hiddleston as his conduit, Loki is both a tortured soul of sorts but also plenty of fun. It’s not for nothing that, within a few minutes of Loki and Thor going back and forth, Thor begins to crack a smile at the same brother who, only last year, caused worldwide havoc to the point where a supergroup had to stop him. In Hiddleston’s hands, Loki is the right kind of villain: dastardly, yes, and underhanded, but also a consummate joy.
There is enough levity in the second half that Thor: The Dark World is, on the whole, an entertaining enough affair. Maybe it’s just the 3D, however, but director Alan Taylor (a veteran TV helmer, having directed a number of key episodes of Game of Thrones) struggles a bit with making any of the scenes that don’t take place on Earth look remotely real. Comparing it visually, Game of Thrones takes place, ostensibly, in an entirely different universe but one that feels viscerally, harshly real. The fantastical elements of the Thor universe are a bit more unwieldy and cartoonish, and rendered in unpleasantly muddy fashion in 3D. (It’s rare for a post-converted 2D movie to be worthwhile in 3D. Take care to note that this film’s subtitle should be taken literally in that format.) Taylor isn’t totally out of his depth with the action here, but some sequences—such as one in which Malekith’s forces intend to storm Asgard via spaceships that only slightly resemble TIE fighters from Star Wars—work far better than others.
Aside from Eccleston (a fine actor who’s given a completely thankless role), the cast is comfortable and savvy enough to tackle the excessively twisted script. Honestly, so many of the good gags feel like a form of improvisation, they feel so atonal from the rest of the dialogue. Loki’s the source of much humor—including the comic high point, a most welcome and unexpected cameo—but even Hemsworth gets a few good moments. During a climactic battle, he’s forced to, of all things, take the London Underground; his friendly look at a bewildered fellow passenger is delightful. Again, it’s the small moments, those little snatches of time that don’t need to stay in the final cut, but wind up there anyway, that work out for the best.
Thor: The Dark World is, in some ways, a pleasant improvement on its 2011 predecessor. In other ways, it will only be an improvement for those who have read and re-read of Thor’s many exploits in the Marvel universe of comic books. There is a certain impenetrability in his exploits throughout this film, an unerring sense that to fully grasp the importance of what the Aether is and the severity of the convergence of the Nine Realms, you probably need to be an expert on all things Thor. As distancing as some of the plot may be, though, the warm chemistry between Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, the one-off gags, and the cheerfully malevolent work from Tom Hiddleston is enough to make the film a moderately winning adventure.
— Josh Spiegel