When I heard tickets were selling for Thursday night showings of Thor: The Dark World, I booked some right away. I got super nerdy about it. Thor is one of my favorite superheroes — or maybe I should say his world is one of my favorites. I love the blend of science fiction, other realms, mythology, and what could be called magic. And in the 2011 Thor film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, you’ve got the addition of a whole lot of science through Thor’s love interest Jane Foster, who is upgraded from a nurse in the comics to a super smart astrophysicist in the film.
Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor, takes the best of Thor and strings it along a storyline that’s simple but strong. That includes action, war, worlds converging, romance, and all of Thor’s family drama with his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), his mother Frigga (Rene Russo), and power-hungry brother Loki. It all starts with the Dark Elf Malekith (Chistopher Ecceleston), who is back after battling Odin ages ago. He plans to use a mysterious substance called Aether to destroy the universe.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane and her intern Darcy (and her intern’s intern, too) investigate an abandoned warehouse where physics have gone haywire, causing things to disappear into the air and sometimes rematerialize later. During her investigation of the place, Jane ends up passing through a portal to another realm, where she is infected with Aether.
Thor comes to collect her and whisks her back to Asgard with him, but his people can do nothing for her. She will eventually die of the Aether unless the Dark Elves draw it out of her. Malekith senses the Aether in Asgard and pinpoints its source — Jane — so he leads the Dark Elves in an attack on Asgard. Odin wants to fight to defend Asgard against recurring attacks, but Thor would rather come up with a more tactical plan.
So he recruits the help of his brother Loki, and together with Jane they visit Malekith and trick him into removing the Aether from Jane. In the ensuing battle, Malekith escapes — and he’s going to destroy the universe with the Aether when the nine realms converge. The eye of that storm is Greenwich, London on Earth. Thor and Jane travel there to defeat Malekith — and to do that, they need to employ some pretty cool science. Jane, Darcy, and fellow scientist Erik (who’s gone slightly bonkers and spent some time naked at Stonehenge) are able to manipulate the portals opening up to different worlds to help in the fight. I loved this…
If you’re into Thor movies for the action, The Dark World does not disappoint. You’ve got everything from Thor putting Mjolnir to good use to Dark Elf spaceships shooting their way through Asgard — and there’s a ton of CGI. One of my favorite parts was watching Thor hijack one of the enemy’s ships and fly through Asgard, hitting nearly everything in the ship’s path along the way.
The only thing missing from the action is that key ingredient of character. The war set-up makes the action relevant, but it’s cold as most of the fights take place between faceless warriors instead of characters with personal history they’re bringing to the battlefield. Even Malekith lacks a certain spark when pitted against Thor.
However, the teleporting makes the action more interesting than ever as characters tumble from one scenic world to another mid-punch. Sure, the science in these Thor movies is preposterous, but that’s all part of the fun. I love the bizarre mash-up of physics, technology, and supernatural phenomena. The last battle in Greenwich is like a giant game of Portal, with Jane and Erik manipulating the portals so Thor and Malekith (and others) fly through the air from one world to another.
As a side note, this creativity also exalts intelligence as characters like Jane think rather than fight their way through things — even battles. In many fantasy or sci-fi tales, humanity is depicted as a blundering, war-mongering race, so here it’s refreshing to see humans contrasted with the Asgardian warriors and presented as vulnerable and reliant on their wits.
ACTING AND CHARACTER
The acting in The Dark World is just as entertaining as the action. Chris Hemsworth seems very comfortable as Thor now, and this time around he conveys not only Thor’s arrogance but also his growing wisdom as Thor ages. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston plays Loki with the perfect blend of melancholy and sarcasm. The drama between the two of them is always a show-stealer, and having them jet off on a space trip together to save the universe is inspired; I only wish that particular journey had been a little longer.
However, Natalie Portman gives my favorite performance as Jane Foster. In the 2011 Thor film, Hemsworth had some of the funniest lines as he tried to navigate Earth for the first time, but in The Dark World, Portman shines as Jane makes her way around Asgard. She maybe gets to slap Thor and Loki one too many times. Maybe. But she’s consistently funny, and when she’s faced with real war breathing right there in the same room, she’s terrified — a realistic, natural response that makes her character even more well-rounded.
As for the romance — there’s just something so enjoyable about seeing a super smart scientist chick fall in love with a hot prince from another world. As superhero movie romances go, this relationship is one of my favorites ever.
To be honest, I thought the romance between Thor and Jane felt awkward and a tad unbelievable in the 2011 Thor film. The whole movie felt a little choppy, mostly because it was hard to juxtapose these two worlds — Asgard and Earth — into a single 2-hour film. Fortunately, The Dark World is much more fluid, with Jane spending a good chunk of time in Asgard. Having the romance already established also helps, and the romantic rival and all-around awesome warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) makes me appreciate Jane as Thor’s love interest even more. I actually wish Sif had a slightly larger role, given her place in the comics. But as for Thor and Jane, I really bought the relationship this time around.
Although The Dark World may not have quite as much character development as the 2011 film, it successfully shows Thor becoming tamed by events and age. He doesn’t party as hard as he used to — or, you know, feast as hard. He’s concerned about Jane, even when she’s worlds away back on Earth. He prefers to come up with a clever plan of action rather than risk countless Asgardian lives in needless fighting. And when Odin gives him the throne, he’s not sure he wants to take it. He’s not the brash young warrior we first meet in Thor — he’s maturing.
Of course, this could also mean that Thor is at last becoming a more stable protagonist to pit against the ever artful and ambitious Loki…
For Marvel fans! As always, there are cameos (Stan Lee as a patient in a mental institution and Chris Evans as Captain America — er, actually, Loki playing Captain America, but you know…) and not one but two post-credits scenes to enjoy.