Marvel Studios has unleashed their most outlandish (literally) and off-the-wall craziest entry in their entire canon. At this point, Marvel Studios is incredibly confident with the brand and its audience, enabling them to lob as much fantasy possible into a single film without imploding, making “Thor: The Dark World” succeed where its predecessor could not.
“The Dark World” sets the stage on an ashen alien planet called the Dark World where the ghoulish Dark Elves and the Asgardians fight for control of a mystical red presence called Aether. The Asgardians manage to hide the Aether from the Elf leader Malekith (Christopher Eccelston), who ponders weak and weary for thousands of years before retaliating. In post-“Avengers” present day, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is accidentally injected with the Aether, sparking the attention of Thor (Chris Hemsworth, now very comfortable in the role), the Asgardians and the Dark Elves. Thor, in an attempt to help Jane, brings her to Asgard, which unleashes war from within his home and from the invading Dark Elves.
In some strangely unexplained fantasy logic, the nine realms are aligning, making passage between them simple. The Dark Elves are just giddy for this occurrence because they can somehow use the Aether to destroy all the worlds once aligned. The only person who can really stop them is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), so Thor begrudgingly has to team with his brother to save the Marvel Universe, or else there will never be another Hulk movie, Iron Man, Captain America… you get the point.
Director Alan Taylor takes the reins from “Thor’s” Kenneth Branagh, handling the action sequences with both finesse and furious momentum. Though, Branagh the consummate actor’s director, received better performances from his actors in the original film.
The set pieces are aplenty and extensive and often incredible. Jumping between worlds creates an exciting tapestry which is unrivaled in the other Marvel films. Thor pounces from London to Asgard to the mystical Dark World. Each location allows its own unique set, which keeps each action sequence fresh and fun. The frequent world-jumping, though, does clog the story, as screenwriters Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely attempt to juggle the various plotlines at once.
With all the dazzling effects and exotic locations, the true spirit of the film comes down to the relationship between Thor and his delinquent brother Loki. In the midst of all the action and wizardry, this is a family drama – Marvel style, obviously. Though they hate each other, Thor and Loki must work together to defeat the Dark Elves; Marvel’s twist to the buddy cop genre.
This opens the film up to a great deal of tension and laughs, all credited to Hiddleston’s wonderful performance. Hiddleston’s swagger and overly emphatic drawl indubitably spice up the film.
The Marvel movies have succeeded at infusing natural and breezy humor, but in the wake of “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” tries to emulate that Joss Whedon-esque banter and wit that gave those scripts such strong character, but the one-liners and quips from characters like Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her intern (Jonathan Howard) just awkwardly sit like a dead weight, bringing the momentum of the film to an abrupt stop.
Reprising their roles are Anthony Hopkins and Renee Russo as Thor’s parents Odin and Frigga. Hopkins will always have a commanding presence, but his Odin this time around is more subdued. Since some of the action takes place on Asgard, Jaimie Alexander and Ray Stevenson are able to polish their roles as Thor’s trusted Asgardians. Joining them is Zachary Levi. Idris Elba is granted a larger part as the sentinel Heimdall, even getting his own impressive action sequence. Then on Earth, Stellan Skarsgård, suffering the effects inflicted on him in “The Avengers,” becomes a comedic mad scientist.
Composer Brian Tyler’s career-boosting year continues with “The Dark World” after his massive success on “Iron Man 3.” Tyler has revived the classic superhero sound from the dead, giving “The Dark World” a rousing, bold and memorable theme for the Asgardian god (as well as penning Marvel Studios’ new official theme heard over the opening logo). After years of “existential” superhero scores, it’s refreshing to see a film with a score that captures the spirit of the genre.
As we become further entrenched in the slate of Marvel films, the studio expects the audience to be familiar with their universe. This can pose a problem for passive audience members since “Thor” packs in references and introduces creatures, locations and characters that fans will relish, but they leave unfamiliar moviegoers scratching their heads. If you don’t know why people around you are cheering and hollering at some random line or moment, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
“Thor: The Dark World” changes the paradigm of franchise movies by doing something no other franchise is really able to do within the context of the film: cross-promote their upcoming projects. It’s a brave new world for movies.
“Thor: The Dark World” hammers the original to a pulp and is thunderous fun, and if it leaves you with anything, it’s a reminder what behemoth commercial properties Marvel and Disney have on their hands.
Walt Disney Pictures. MPAA: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes.