By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer
If only they had made Loki instead.
Thor: The Dark World continues the saga of Marvel comics characters extended across movies like the first Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and The Avengers and into television, where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have a Nov. 19 episode set in the aftermath of the Dark World events.
Marvel certainly thinks it can keep things going forever. It expects audiences to hang around not only for more movies, but through every moment of the existing ones; The Dark World has two extra scenes in its credits.
But as you stretch a concept and characters so far, it’s ever more possible that something will snap. And so it does in Dark World, where the heroic Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is far less interesting than his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the major villain in The Avengers and still a dangerous character here.
But not the most dangerous. Thousands of years ago, the Dark Elves set out to destroy not only Asgard, Thor’s home, but other realms including Earth. The Asgardians defeated the Elves and took control of their most powerful weapon, the matter-destroying Aether. But they failed to kill or capture the Elves’ leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). And, in the present day, Malekith is ready to reclaim the Aether and once and for all eliminate his enemies.
However, even as Malekith gears up, Thor has other things to deal with. He has brought Loki, defeated in The Avengers, back to Asgard, where he is imprisoned. On the verge of succeeding his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor must decide what to do about his love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). As a human, Jane seems an unsuitable match to Odin.
More to the point, she is involved in yet another scientific investigation that puts her directly in the way of Malekith.
But is that all interesting onscreen? Only intermittently. A lot of The Dark World is set on Asgard, which demands our attention to artificial-looking sets and more than one ridiculous costume.
While there are moments of excitement and humor (including one cute Marvel surprise), the overall plot is less than thrilling. In fact, it was so drawn out at times that it had me going beyond suspension of disbelief into major skepticism. (If one side, for instance, has remarkably effective high-tech weapons, why do so many one-on-one fights end up involving just swords and fists?)
Hemsworth, while a capable actor, is stuck with a script and staging that make Thor less than engrossing. Portman, for that matter, seems to have set aside her Oscar-admired skills in favor of shuffling a small set of facial expressions. It’s up to a merrily wicked Hiddleston and, at times, Kat Dennings (as Jane’s friend and associate Darcy) to make the whole thing bearable until the last 20 or 30 minutes, when the action sequences really kick in as the climactic battle spreads across multiple realms.
Only that’s not enough. The Dark World needed more and better story, rooted more strongly in the characters — and set more fully on Earth instead of the distant fantasyland. It needed fewer scenes that seemed made-for-3-D — visual showing off that didn’t add to the emotional or narrative heft of the movie. And, since I saw it in 2-D, those Dark World moments were even more superfluous.
I always go to Marvel movies with optimism. Even here, at times I thought this might be an improvement on the first Thor. But The Dark World is at best minor Marvel.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.