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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013) review

November 7, 2013

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written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

produced by: Kevin Feige

directed by: Alan Taylor

rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some suggestive content)

runtime: 112 min.

U.S. release date: November 8, 2013

 

Two years ago, Marvel Studios released “Thor”, one of the more challenging Marvel Comics properties to translate to the big-screen. Up until then, we were rooting for a cocky billionaire inventor with a weaponized iron suit and believed a certain reclusive doctor shouldn’t be provoked into fits of rage, but could we accept a magical world of Norse gods inhabiting a celestial realm? We could and we did. Splendidly cast, with a confident balance of Shakespearian theatricality and campy silliness infused with spectacular action, the movie was a success. After seeing him as an Avenger last year, “Thor: The Dark World” now provides us with an entertaining sequel that maintains everything that worked in the first film, while broadening its scope and giving us more time with the charismatic characters we’ve come to enjoy.

In this case, “more of the same” is welcome.

The movie opens up with another narration from Thor’s father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who again recounts ancient history. This time, we learn of a time when leader of the dark elves of Svartalheim, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), wielded a crimson liquid goo called Aether, intent on enveloping the Nine Realms into darkness during the rare time when they all converge. He was beaten by Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curan), and his Asgardian army and left for dead. Of course, we know that’s not the case.

Fast forward to today and it’s two years after that fracas in New Mexico and a year after the battle in New York. A shackled Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned in Asgard for giving Earth a hard time, while his half-brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), assists his friends Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three (Ray Stevenson and Tadanobu Asano return as Volstaff and Hogun, respectively, while Zachary Levi replaces Joshua Dallas as Fandral) as they fight off an attack on Vanaheim, continuing their battle for peace in the Nine Realms.

 

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At the same time, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is working in London, trying to hide her pining for a certain God of Thunder from Richard (Chris O’Dowd), a patient would-be suitor.  She’s pulled back into her planetary studies by her assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings, once again bringing the jokes), who now has her own intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) she can order around. Not far off, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), still reeling from his manipulation by Loki (which transpired in “Marvel’s Avengers“), babbles on about planetary alignment while parading in the buff or his underwear (it helps him think). Darcy takes Jane to an abandoned warehouse where she’s discovered some bizarre readings, which turns out to be some kind of portal.

Next thing we know, Jane is sucked into another dimension and is spewed out five Earth hours later, contaminated by some other-worldly substance. The all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elba) knows something’s not right with Jane and alerts Thor, who sweeps her up to back to Asgard. It is discovered by a physician (Alice Krige) that Jane is infected by a Soul Forge (although Jane gleefully calls it a Quantum Field Generator) that is using her as a host. The feisty Jane also has an awkward encounter with both Odin and Thor’s mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), who takes her under her wing.

The presence of this host awakens Malekith, who’s been in suspended animation in space along with the rest of his dark elves and his right-hand man, Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Intent on seeking revenge on Odin’s family, Malekith alters Algrim into Kurse, a demon-like attack dog, and with an army of elves, invade Asgard. After much damage and one particularly personal fatal blow, Thor is forced to release Loki and form an uneasy alliance against Malekith and his forces. With the help of Sif, Volstagg and Fandral, the two rivals work side-by-side, along with Jane, to deceive and defeat the enemy. But unpredictable events occur, causing the battle to be transported back to London, where Darcy and Selvig are ready to do their part to fend off the darkness.

 

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Settle down, I didn’t give anything vital away. There are certainly aspects of this fun sequel I’ve withheld. They are nice touches and hilarious surprises that are best discovered with an audience. Trust me, if you’ve been as pleased as I’ve been with Marvel Studios output, you’ll be satisfied.

It undoubtedly comes as no surprise that some of the best scenes are watching Hemsworth and Hiddleston work together and react to each other. There’s an emotional moment that beings them together, but that doesn’t mean they work well together and that’s why it’s so much fun to watch. Both actors have mastered these characters so well. Hemsworth has the regal stride and flashing smile down and can still effortlessly swoon viewers (two women seated next to me were quite vocal about this at the screening I attended). And Hiddleston, who’s appeared off-screen as Loki more than once this year, is once again quite the scene-stealer. One would think, after seeing these two in the first movie and in “Marvel’s Avengers”, that it would feel repetitive, but thankfully there’s a different enough dynamic here that separates them from the other movies. Honestly, I can’t get enough of them as these characters.

Like flipping through an old Tales of Asgard or Journey into Mystery comic from Stan and Jack, this movie offers a different look at the majestic kingdom of Asgard and the outlying realms. There’s gigantic, looming spaceships and a gliding skiff being chased by dagger-shaped cruisers that shoot lasers over a glistening ocean. Those familiar with the comics will see the obvious influence writer/artist Walt Simonson has on the movie (he created Malekith and Kurse, after all) and even a hint at Olivier Copiel’s designs. You’ll even recognize a character who could be Korg the Kronan. All of it will elicit a smile for those in the know.

Some may complain that Eccleston’s character comes off as a formulaic threat with the kind of posturing we’ve seen in sci-fi fantasy villains before (he almost felt like a “Star Trek” baddie, at times). But that’s only because we have Hiddleston, who winds up upstaging any threat to our heroes, due to Loki’s obvious appeal.

 

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For the most part, the script flows well – as long as you already accept this material. There’s nothing entirely original, but if you’re already hooked into this ever-expanding MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), there’s a good time to be had here. Then is  some head-scratching at the end of the third act though, where we’re left wondering how we  arrived at the supposed ending. (It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s obvious there will be a third film which  will be part of Phase Three. My hope is we’ll see a certain Frog of Thunder, maybe even an alien named Bill).

Other than that, “The Dark World” does well to mostly focus on the characters we want to spend time with. Granted, more Sif would be great (I’d even take a spinoff with Balder the Brave), but it’s understandable that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also scribed “Captain America: The First Avenger” and its upcoming sequel), along with comic book writer Christopher Yost, mainly focus on what’s happening with Thor and Loki and Thor and Jane.

On that note, the chemistry between Thor and Jane, which previously felt rushed, is more palpable this time around. It’s Jane’s turn to be the fish-out-of water and it gives Portman more to do. Sure, she’s still in over her head and needs protection from her boyfriend – it is his movie! But you can’t say that the woman in the “Thor” movies aren’t tough. From Sif to Darcy, there’s a welcome representation of strong and capable women (and some who are quite funny) who can hold their own in a crisis.

 

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Director Alan Taylor takes a different approach to the world(s) of Thor than helmer Kenneth Branagh. Where Branagh was the perfect choice to introduce a glistening Asgard, combining drama and humor with great results, Taylor (who’s helmed some of the best episodes of “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire”) ignores the elegance and goes right into the grittiness of war, with its earthy color palette that accentuates Thor’s red cape. I particularly liked how Taylor filmed a clandestine adventure that Loki and Thor and his friends embark on. As we see the mission unfold, Taylor intercuts to a secluded discussion that Thor is having in a Asgardian tavern with his crew, explaining how it will all go down. It’s not something we’re used to seeing in a superhero movie and that’s always welcome.

In regards to the 3D, Marvel Studios has improved in this area with each film. That’s not to say that it’s necessary here, but there are some cool moments, especially with Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer actually feels like it’s own character here) and the flowing Aether. As for the requisite extra scenes, there are two – one in mid-credit and one at the end-credit. The first one is more fun, offering a glimpse at what’s to come in next year, but the last one really could’ve been included at the end of the actual film.

“The Dark World” is definitely darker in tone than the last movie, earning its rating with moments that might be frightening for the kiddos. But its uncanny humor is intact, delivering some great zingers. It’s impressive how the tones blend together so well, providing a weird and fun trip that warrants repeat viewings.

 

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RATING: ***

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2013 9:52 am

    Nice review David. Much to my surprise, Thor continues to get more and more interesting and entertaining to watch as the years, as well as the movies, go by.

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