Chris Hemsworth as THOR in "Thor: The Dark World"

REVIEW: “Thor: The Dark World” ★★ and a ½

Though it has its entertaining moments, most of which feature Tom Hiddleston as the mischievous Loki, “Thor: The Dark World” fails to soar to the same heights as its 2011 predecessor. It’s a sequel borne of necessity, devoid of style and verve, all amounting to precious little.

Thor: The Dark World has its entertaining moments.

Most of them feature Tom Hiddleston as the mischievous Loki.

However, the film fails to soar to the same heights as its 2011 predecessor.

To paraphrase the Bard, it’s a sequel borne of necessity, devoid of style and verve, all amounting to mediocrity.

What’s it about?

When we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he was bringing Loki back to their home realm of Asgard gagged and shackled to answer for his attempt to conquer Midgard (Earth).

Odin (Anthony Hopkins), once again King of Asgard, sentences the unrepentant Loki to imprisonment, and set Thor to the task of quelling the chaos throughout the other Nine Realms that his brother stirred up with his first bid to take Asgard’s throne.

Through a show of force, Odin hopes to return the realms to peace and demonstrate to them all that Thor was now truly prepared to take his place as Asgard’s king.

Only the Realm Eternal’s heir apparent’s heart isn’t quite in the right place for him to sit upon the Golden Throne. Moreover, everyone — Odin, Thor’s mother Frigga (Rene Russo), and his longtime comrade-in-arms who just may desire to be more, Sif (Jaimie Alexander) — knows it.

Though he fights to bring peace to his home, Thor’s heart seeks out Midgard and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) each night. When she suddenly vanishes from view, he’s off to find her in a flash of rainbow light.

Jane’s disappearance is the result of her inadvertent discovery of the Aether, an ancient and malevolent power once defeated and buried by Odin’s father, Bor. In those days, among Bor’s most powerful enemies were the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, led by their ruler, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston).

Now, with the Aether’s bonding itself to Jane, Malekith and his few remaining followers are awakened to resume their quest. In response, Odin stubbornly resolves to use Jane as bait to draw out his father’s ancient enemy.

Thor, however, sees the only path to victory and to saving Jane is to take the battle to Malekith.

To do that, he’ll have to rely on the one person he now trusts the least. Of course, it’s Loki.


Lackluster direction

All sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?

The story, credited to Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and Robert Rodat (The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan) isn’t really the problem here.

Nor can the screenwriters be blamed. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely (Captain America: The First Avenger), along with veteran Marvel Animation writer/producer Christopher Yost deliver a script that rings true with what we know of these characters from both the first Thor film and Marvel comic lore.

Alas, the fault here really lies with the director, Alan Taylor. In theory Taylor should have been a great fit for this franchise, coming from his directorial work on HBO’s beloved fantasy drama series Game of Thrones.

Yes, Taylor knows fantasy. What he apparently lacks is a sense of how to craft spectacle and truly compelling, adrenaline-pumping action.

With the exception of one key sequence in the film, every battle scene, every act of bravery and heroism, every moment that should soar off the screen feels drab and leaden.

Gone from here is the dynamic direction of Kenneth Branagh. Branagh understood that all these Asgardians, not just Thor and Loki, must be charismatic and larger than life.

Taylor seems to want his supporting cast to take a step back and let the stars do the heavy lifting. Thus, some of them end up feeling like afterthoughts.

God of Mischief having fun

Only Tom Hiddleston looks like he’s having any fun in this production, and Loki once again steals the show as the film’s most interesting character, by far.

Hiddleston’s every scene is fun to watch because he brings out the best in the cast around him. Thor’s best friends hate him and resent that they have to rely on him. Jane hates him for his crimes on Earth.

And of course, Thor doesn’t want to trust him, but through it all still sees the brother he grew up with behind the mischievous grin and scheming eyes. Their strongest emotions come to the fore when around Loki, and so the film comes to life when he’s on screen.

Otherwise, everyone, from Hemsworth to Christopher Eccleston (wasted here) to even the great Sir Anthony Hopkins sleepwalks through their every scene. And the absence of chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman is even more evident here than in the first film.

Add all this to production design that looks like cast-offs from the Lord of the Rings films and Vin Diesel’s The Chronicles of Riddick and what should have been a thrilling, rousing return to the Marvel Universe turns into a tedious, uninspiring 112 minutes that feels more like 3 hours.

Worth seeing?

You had to imagine at some point during Marvel Studios’ incredibly successful run with these films that there would be a hiccup, one that falls flat and fails to impress or satisfy anyone, fanboy or casual fan.

Well, Thor: The Dark World certainly is that. What remains to be seen is whether this is simply a pothole on the road to continued financial and critical success for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe or a sign that they might actually be losing steam as they march on toward the next Avengers sequel, coming in 2015.

Nothing’s going to stop that train from rolling to its destination, but if the stops along the way prove to be this disappointing, the anticipation for that next cinematic event will certainly not reach the heights that it did the last time around.

Thor: The Dark World

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Alan Taylor.
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.

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