Movie review: 'Thor: The Dark World'

The latest Marvel movie is good clean forgettable fun, with some great design work and visual effects, a dash of the humor that has been bubbling through all these films lately, a convoluted set-up disguising a fairly simple premise, and another great performance from Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  He’s pretty much the definitive Marvel villain at this point, and he clearly loves his job – both the actor and the character.

Forget about trying to make sense of “Thor: The Dark World” if you haven’t seen the original Thor film and “The Avengers” at a minimum.  Very little effort is spared to explain who any of these people are.  That’s a defensible creative decision, given the popularity of the earlier films, but somewhere out there in America this weekend, it’s a statistical certainty that a few people who didn’t see the previous Marvel movies are going to plop down a few bucks to see this one, and spend about half the running time as bemused as any non-comic-book geeks who stick around for the obligatory mid-credits “stinger.”  (We’re at least one full movie away from that scene making a lick of sense to anybody who isn’t familiar with Marvel’s cosmic adventure comics, but I guess they figure they got away with the almost equally cryptic stinger after “Avengers,” so why not? Funnybook fans, get ready to spend your post-“Dark World” coffee shop get-together explaining to your friends who the weirdo in the middle of the credits was.)

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with “The Dark World” is that it doesn’t really bother explaining who the new characters are.  The unfortunate Christopher Eccleston – a terrific actor who was a crucial element of the “Doctor Who” resurgence – is stuck playing a villain with ten seconds of backstory who delivers most of his lines in an alien language, and while he seems pretty menacing during his brief appearances on screen – kudos to everyone involved with designing the villains’ costumes and magical technology, it’s awesome to behold – he really doesn’t seem like a match for the demigods of Asgard.  A bit more time developing him as a character and explaining why he’s so cheesed of at… well, everything in existence… would have gone a long way.  I suspect a longer and more satisfying cut of the film awaits us on DVD.

As it stands, the evil Malekith and his Dark Elves, who want to blow up the entire universe, are thoroughly upstaged by Hiddleston’s Loki, who becomes important to the struggle against existential devastation, and is about as reliable an ally as you’d expect.  He’s got great chemistry with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, and Rene Russo playing Odin’s wife Frigga (who has a lot more to do this time around), and really just about everyone else.  

Natalie Portman and her human crew are good for some comic relief.  There is witty banter between various characters.  Interestingly, Odin turns into a huge jerk when Thor brings his human girlfriend to Asgard, with much growling about the brief and inconsequential lives of Midgard’s fragile, disease-prone denizens.  He seemed more wise and benevolent toward mankind in the first film.  It’s always rough when you’re dating a girl from the wrong side of the galactic tracks, and Dad doesn’t approve.

Great heaping gobs of exposition, backstory, and pseudo-science are heaped upon a fairly thin and straightforward plot, which is straight out of Hollywood’s Generic Epic Fantasy Cookbook: bad guys want a mystical MacGuffin that will unleash hell, one of the heroes gets her hands on it, everyone else tries to save her, all hell is duly unleashed for the apocalyptic finale.  There are a couple of great set pieces here, including the Dark Elf assault on Asgard – do not try flying your spaceship past Heimdall without filling out the requisite immigration paperwork! – and the crazy dimension-warping finale, which throws in a few funny twists on the usual superhero vs. supervillain smackdown.  

This second “Thor” outing feels more like a science-fantasy film until the end, when dark-matter bolts and mystic mallets are flying through city streets, and the conventional trappings of the super-hero genre are in full view.  It’s a fun movie with some great visuals, pretty much guaranteed to please anyone who enjoyed the first “Thor” movie at all.  It’s a bit overstuffed with characters, so a few of them are inevitably shortchanged.  I’d recommend fixing that by having the Warriors Three turn up for a guest appearance on “Agents of SHIELD,” which is sorely in need of a little super-Viking mayhem.