Thor is back in Alan Taylor’s “Thor: The Dark World”, and saving the nine realms in the aftermath of brother Loki’s shenanigans in the first “Thor” movie and last year’s “The Avengers”. Of course, in-between saving everyone, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) spends his nights dreaming of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his human girlfriend from the first movie. His father (Anthony Hopkins) wants him to go ahead and make hunky little children with Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but Thor has a hankerin’ that only the spunky Jane can cure, and no one, not even a kick-ass warrior like Sif, will do. Thor gets the reunion he’s wanted when Jane, as she is wont to do, stumbles across a cosmic weapon of mass destruction back on Earth.
It just so happens that that C.W.M.D.™ is exactly what Dark Elf bad guy Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) has been waiting for in like forever (or thereabouts). He and his fellow Dark Elves want to turn the universe dark and such. You know, bad guy stuff. Hey, they’re called the Dark Elves for a reason, I guess. (And just like the Peter Jackson elves, these elves even have their own language, though why it’s subtitled when they’re just speaking to one another is a tad mysterious.) What they want is Jane, who has gotten herself some superpowers. Well, sort of. Bottom line, Thor has to save her from the Dark Elves, and the only way to do that is to team up with his ne’er-do-well brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Can you say, Cosmic Buddy Cop team-up?
Like Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” from 2011, there’s a fish-out-of-water element to “The Dark World”, though surprisingly this figures very little into the storyline. I suspect there might have been more left on the cutting room floor. Before Jane even gets a chance to go gaga over Asgard (she does meet the parents, though), Malekith is attacking and people are dying and buildings are exploding. Malekith is your traditional Bond villain — completely one-dimensional, which is a terrible waste of Eccleston’s talents. He’s also covered in make-up for the entire movie, so you wouldn’t even know it was Eccleston if he wasn’t in the credits. Although the end of the universe is at stake here, “The Dark World” has tons of comedy, which, yes, sort of undermines the whole grave nature of the storyline. Then again, watching Thor catch a subway train is probably worth it.
The Warriors Three have about the same amount of screentime they did in Kenneth Branagh’s movie, though Tadanobu Asano must have had a prior commitment because he shows up for what amounts to a glorified cameo. Anthony Hopkins gets more to do as Thor’s dad, and Rene Russo, as Thor’s mother, gets a pretty kick-ass fight scene, as does Idris Elba’s gatekeeper Heimdall. The crew back on Earth provides most of the film’s comic relief, with Jane’s amusingly way-too-covered-up intern Darcy (Kat Denning) running around with her own intern, and Stellan Skarsgård’s scientist baring, er, all in order to save the universe. Chris O’Dowd has a funny cameo as the poor sap trying to date Jane Foster. Sheeyeah. Good luck trying to replace a blond-haired Viking God, dude.
The sequel’s action quotient has definitely been jacked up, and at times “Thor: The Dark World” looks more like a “Star Wars” prequel than a comic book movie about a superhero patterned after old Norse mythology. The Dark Elves show up in a giant spaceship that launches smaller fighters, and Asgard proves to have equally “Star Wars”-rific defense systems like artillery batteries and the like. The tech in “The Dark World” felt incongruous at times, but it’s a bit silly to complain about having too much crazy laser-blasting action in a comic book movie. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki doesn’t really figure into things until about an hour in, though his Loki’s constant presence does the film good. Hemsworth is his usual handsome and hunky self, but Thor has always been a little plain bread, especially next to the flamboyant Loki.
“Thor: The Dark World” has very little excess to bog things down, so expect a fast-paced, slam-bang comic book action movie. The budget is reportedly around $200 million, about $50 million more than the first movie. Long-time TV director Alan Taylor makes pretty good use of those extra millions, and there is a big, massive action set piece about once every 15 minutes or so. The film moves very well, dwelling just long enough on some character moments to drive the narrative forward. I found it to be massively more entertaining than the first movie, even if the villains were lacking. A lot about the Dark Elves were just not very well handled, I’m afraid. But hey, I guess not everyone can be Tom Hiddleston.
Finally, for those of you who don’t mind sitting through the credits, “Thor: The Dark World” features two — one mid-credit, and one at the end. Only the first one is really worth sitting around for.
Alan Taylor (director) / Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, Robert Rodat (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Hemsworth … Thor
Natalie Portman … Jane Foster
Tom Hiddleston … Loki
Anthony Hopkins … Odin
Christopher Eccleston … Malekith
Jaimie Alexander … Sif
Zachary Levi … Fandral
Ray Stevenson … Volstagg
Tadanobu Asano … Hogun
Idris Elba … Heimdall
Rene Russo … Frigga
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje … Algrim / Kurse
Kat Dennings … Darcy Lewis
Stellan Skarsgård … Erik Selvig