This sequel to the 2011 ‘surprise hit’ original is a good follow-up, but suffers from not being anywhere near as concise as it could’ve/should’ve been. It seems to me that director Alan Taylor, on his first foray into movies after a lengthy and distinguished career directing for companies like HBO, is more comfortable helming portions of a larger story, as opposed to fitting all the pieces together for one sitting. Which is not to say that he failed here, it’s just that his slippery grasp of the ‘narrative focus’ is apparent. especially in the 3rd Act.
The story picks up a short while after ‘The Battle of New York’, as seen in The Avengers (2012), with ‘Thor’ and his merry little band of warriors mopping up unrest throughout the 9 Realms surrounding his home dimension/world of Asgard. As peace returns, an ancient race of enemies known as The Dark Elves, led by ‘Malekith’ (former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston) arise from self-imposed exile to locate an ambiguous source of destructive power known as The Aether. It seems that way back when, ‘Thor’s great grandfather led an assault on the Dark Elves and seized this nefarious power source, hiding it far from the surviving Elves reach. At the same time, on Earth, Thor’s gal pal ‘Jane Foster’ (the yummy Natalie Portman) and her smartass research assistant ‘Darcy’ (a hilarious Kat Dennings) have stumbled across a disturbing interdimensional phenomenon in a deserted warehouse district outside of London. Through a series of fantastical hi-jinks, Jane ends up as the unwilling host to The Aether. Cue the otherworldly game of ‘cat n mouse’ as ‘Malekith’ arises to reclaim the weapon, in order to subjugate the known universe…or…something.
Where the first film spent a good chunk of time watching the ‘fish out of water’ antics of ‘Thor’ after his exile to Earth, this one reverses the concept by having ‘Jane’ find herself in the world of Asgard, having to come to terms with her new, unfortunate condition, as well as the manner and attitudes of Asgardian royal life. Taylor takes what director Kenneth Branagh established, where the world of Asgard is concerned, and expands upon it nicely. We see the main city in greater detail this time and many of the design choices are cool. The same can also be said of the Dark Elves. While they are largely one dimensional ‘bad guys’, the designs for their ships, armour and weapons are pretty sweet (love those implosive hand grenades!).
The tone of this flick is noticeably darker than that of the first. Even Asgard, shown in the first film as a city of bright, warm colors (to contrast with the dark, frozen realm of the enemies home), has been turned down a notch. Everything’s just a little bit more subdued. Not that that’s a bad thing…just a noticeable one.
Speaking of ‘noticeable’, I have to come back to my biggest issue with the flick…the 3rd Act. Right around the time that we lead into the big, sprawling action-filled climax, I found myself wondering if I had blinked one too many times or something, because suddenly flashy and important shit was leaping off the screen (yes, the 3D was decent) and I didn’t understand why or how. There’s some Deux ex Machina gimmick that turns up out of nowhere, with no solid explanation as to it’s workings, that basically turns ‘Thor: The Dark World’ into a game of Portal. People, Dark Elves, Asgardians, nearby cars and what-have-you start leaping in and out of wibbly wobbly timey wimey…er…well…portals. It’s all fine and dandy…if we knew how and why the hell it was happening! At least ‘it’ looked good, as ‘it’ made no sense.
Luckily, the flick has a surprising dose of humor evenly scattered throughout the story, a good chunk of it belonging to the awkwardly sexy Kat Dennings character ‘Darcy’. But everyone gets their own quip or clever one-liner, which was sweet and well-handled. It’s just too bad that certain, previously humorous characters are relegated to ‘background dressing’ status.
‘Thor’s interesting little gang from the first one are basically glorified extras here, with the exception of ‘Lady Sif’ (a deadly hot Jaimie Alexander), but even the hints of a romantic challenge to ‘Jane Foster’ are simply left hanging. There’s no pay-off or expansion to these charmingly-established but criminally over-looked characters. Which is a shame. It’d be great if, one day, an Extended or Directors Cut version was released that gave them more to chew on…but it probably won’t happen. Even if certain characters were neglected or under-cooked, it can’t be said that the cast isn’t impressive.
Returning to Asgard, we get Hannibal Lecter himself, Anthony Hopkins, chewing up the scenery as ‘Thor’s grumpy father ‘Odin’, Rene Russo (really the ONLY character to get any expansion from the first one, plus a pretty kick-ass fight scene of her own) as the awkwardly-named ‘Frigga’ (Thor’s mother), Tom Hiddleston as the ever-present duplicitous traitor ‘Loki’ ( again with great lines and delivery). It just sucked that his motivations and machinations were murky in practice and purpose. And what the hell was with his final scene?! If anyone figures it out, let me know. I must’ve blinked one too many times again and missed HOW THE HELL THAT SCENE CAME TO BE!!! We also have the awesome Idris Elba back as ‘Heimdall’, the far-visioned guardian of Asgard, here with just a little more to do than the first film, and Stellan Skarsgaard as the hilariously deranged ‘Dr. Erik Selvig’, who’s reintroduction is undeniably chuckle-worthy. There’s also a terrific ‘cameo’ from one of ‘Thor’s Avenger’s teammates (no way in hell am I going to spoil THIS one!) that provides a welcome laugh in a time of tension. And of course…the ‘part and parcel’ Stan Lee cameo.
The effects are well-handled and many of them looked great in 3D, the depth of which wasn’t as deep as it could’ve been, but what WAS there, worked nicely.
All in all, ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is an entertaining addition to the Marvel Universe and, despite suffering from some obvious narrative neglect, looks pretty while dishing out some sweet action scenes and honest chuckles. I had a good time with it, despite mentally throwing my hands up (“What the hell is going on here?!!) during the muddled 3rd Act. There’s no persistent need to run to the theatre to catch this one, but if you liked the original ‘Thor’, or the Marvel Universe as a cinematic ‘whole’, then definitely catch it on Home Release.
*Given that this IS a Marvel Studios flick, there is the now-expected post-credit scene. Actually, there are two. The first, coming in halfway through the credits, is worth sticking around for, as it seems to set up a connection to the upcoming ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ adaptation. The other one, coming in at the tail, is largely a meaningless ‘throw away’ that, despite providing a last chuckle, doesn’t serve the extended universe at all.