Viewers will need to have seen not only Thor but also The Avengers in order to understand all of the interconnected storylines that are being presented.
In the Marvel universe, Thor is a bit of an anomaly. The character is based on the Norse god and the extensive mythology that has accumulated over several thousand years, but which has also been expanded upon in the comics by writers Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. In comic book form, this does not pose a hindrance to Thor’s serialized adventures, as the backstory can be unraveled at a deliberate pace. However, for both of Marvel’s big screen attempts to bring Thor to life, Thor (2011) and now Thor: The Dark World, this means a significant amount of the films’ run times must be dedicated solely to history and exposition, a burden not felt by Marvel’s other superheroes.
As with the first film, The Dark World opens with a lengthy voiceover which explains some aspect of the intricate history of the Nine Realms. This time, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) describes an ancient race of creatures called the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who wish to plunge the entire universe into darkness. Odin’s father fought them off many millennia ago, but now Malekith has resurfaced to use the evil force known as the Aether to once again try to bring darkness to all nine realms.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) discovers that his mortal love on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has been infected with the Aether which puts her in Malekith’s path. He attempts to save her by bringing her to Asgard, the realm of the gods, but Malekith follows him there. Thor’s only hope to stop Malekith is to release his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), from his eternal imprisonment to track Malekith to his home planet and destroy the Aether before it can cause an irreversible and catastrophic ripple through the universe.
Taking over the directing duties from Kenneth Branagh, whose work on Thor was confused at best, Alan Taylor makes The Dark World much more coherent than the first film, but the overwritten plot still weighs the film down. Taylor, who has directed television shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and The Sopranos, handles the material quite well given it is his first blockbuster project. Though there is a greater dramatic component to The Dark World than there was with Thor, in the ragged relationship between Thor and Jane Foster, Taylor is able to bring a great deal of levity to the action, with moments of well-placed humor that echo the tone of Iron Man and The Avengers.
Credit must be given to screenwriters Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely for making the story engaging and entertaining despite the onslaught of mythology we are expected to remember. The biggest flaw in the Thor franchise is that viewers will need to have seen not only Thor but also The Avengers in order to understand all of the interconnected storylines that are being presented. Easily one-third of the final script is purely exposition, but the other two-thirds are solid Hollywood fare so maybe there is nothing to complain about.
Hemsworth dominates again as Thor, being so perfectly cast and so dedicated to the role. His physical presence is easily his most distinguishing feature, but audiences should pay close attention to both his dramatic chops and subtle comic delivery. Hiddleston returns as the bad guy we hate to love, Loki being a fantastic counterpart to Thor in every way. How can a character be so slimy and so charming at the same time? Hiddleston is how. Like the first film, the rest of the characters are underwritten leaving little material for the actors to explore, but in a film like Thor: The Dark World that is hardly surprising.
Thor is a terrific character, but his mythology is too burdensome for his own good. Thor: The Dark World works as a blockbuster, but the other films in the Marvel universe are much more satisfying and complete. | Matthew Newlin