Comic book movies are increasingly, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, lost in space.
Following the summer’s glumly bombastic Man of Steel, which added a heavy dose of Krypton politics to Superman’s once pleasantly silly story, comes Thor: The Dark World, in which Thor’s Asgard, a celestial home of gods floating somewhere in the universe, is the primary setting. Earth is an afterthought, just one of the “nine realms,” albeit the one with Natalie Portman.
As Marvel’s latest 3-D behemoth, Thor: The Dark World isn’t so much a sequel as the latest plug-and-play into the comic book company’s blockbuster algorithm. It’s a reliably bankable formula of world-saving action sequences, new villain introductions and clever quips from women on the side
The expansive Marvel universe is carefully stitched together across its many properties. The Dark World follows The Avengers in chronology and runs alongside the current, unremarkable ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Thor (Christopher Hemsworth) has spent the last two years restoring order to the nine realms of the cosmos, but just as peace settles, a previously locked-away dark energy called the Aether seeps out. It leaks into Portman’s astrophysicist, Jane Foster, awakening a previously vanquished species of Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). They would like to see the universe returned to complete darkness.
This occurs as the nine realms are lining up in a rare convergence that makes them particularly susceptible to Aether-spread ruin.
To save Life As We Know It, Thor seeks help from his duplicitous adoptive brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has been imprisoned for killing thousands of humans. Hiddleston’s sneering Loki remains one of the finest Marvel antagonists, and the franchise seems to value him (as it should) as much as his more heroic brother.
When The Dark World touches down on Earth, away from the Clash of the Titans-style realms of gods, it’s considerably better. Along with Portman, returning is the sarcastic sidekick Kat Dennings (as Jane’s intern) and Stellan Skarsgard as discredited scientist Erik Selvig. Chris O’Dowd makes a welcome cameo as a blind date for a very reluctant Jane.
The tone is far more amiable on Earth than in Asgard, where Anthony Hopkins, Renee Russo and Idris Elba remain locked in golden-hued majesty. Hemsworth, a seemingly perfectly rendered movie star equipped with brawn and baritone, also suffers from the stiffness. He had much more fun in Rush earlier this year.