Monday, November 18, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Beginning with 2008's Iron Man, it seems that everything Disney's Marvel studio touches turns to gold, absurd plots notwithstanding. This is a testament to the (mostly) smart dialogue, fresh-looking effects, and decent acting that has come with each subsequent venture into the so-called "Marvel Cinematic Universe" which, with newcomer Thor: The Dark World, now numbers at least seven feature films, depending on how you count. This latest film is by no means the best in the series, but it will do. Chris Hemsworth returns as the alien superhero who, having helped saved Earth a couple of years prior, must now battle against impossible odds to save his own world, and the entire universe with it.

What he really wants, though, is to re-kindle his relationship with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, a casting coup). It helps that on a rainy afternoon in a deserted London warehouse Jane manages to accidentally trigger the unlikely sequence of events which both reunite her with Thor and threaten the destruction of all things. An unwieldy prologue explains that, millenia ago, the universe was compeltely dark and none of the worlds that now exist (such as Earth and Asgard) existed. Beings called the Dark Elves, who would prefer to return the universe to its former state, have been awakened by the unfortunate release of a potent liquid substance called the Aether, which had been buried and hidden from the Elves virutally since its creation in an attempt to prevent it from unleashing its evil, destructive force. With the Aether now available to them, the bad guys are able to re-enter the story of the universe and try to demolish it--if only the mighty Thor would let them. In order to solve this equation and save everyone and everything, Thor concocts a tricky plan that involves bringing Jane to Asgard, releasing his villainous half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, a highlight) from prison, defying his god-like father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and doing a whole lot of gravitational-anomaly-time-and-space-jumping in the final act.

It's a lot to keep up with. Too much, really. So it's a good thing that the vistas of Asgard are so splended, and that the passable script includes plenty of laugh lines, mostly exploiting the absurdity of having Thor, in full Asgardian regalia, wandering around in places like a two bedroom apartment or the Greenwich Tube station. This film picks up right where the storylines of 2011's Thor and 2012's The Avengers left off, and it closes abruptly after a truly surprising ending, perfectly setting up a future third installment. Inasmuch, then, as The Dark World is intended to bridge the gap, it works well. As a stand-alone feature, however, it feels only so-so, a serviceable appetizer whetting its audience's appetite for even bigger thrills yet to come. Its biggest drawback is a lack of real chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman; its biggest asset is an abundance of chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston.

Of course, as with any Marvel film, stay through the credits. This time, we get to see Benecio del Toro previewing his role as the Collector, who will next appear in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. And the hits keep on coming...

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