Thor: The Dark World Directed by: Alan Taylor Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgaard, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins Running Time: 1 hr 52 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: November 8, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: Space viking Thor (Hemsworth) must save the universe from being destroyed.
WHO'S IT FOR? Moviegoers who will sit through any and all of Marvel's movies; those worn down by Iron Man 3 looking for more reasons to start a hunger strike outside Kevin Feige's mansion.
Suddenly Kenneth Branagh's camera-tilting dutch angles from Thor don't seem so obnoxious, considering the aggressive depletion of creativity that defines that film's followup, Thor: The Dark World. With more time spent on Thor's shiny homeland of Asgard than Earth, the significance of a once curious viking-out-of-space now becomes perpetually stock, especially in this CGI overload that seems quite nicer if viewed as a pitch for the TV series this character should probably be relegated to from now on.
Whatever shimmer of discovery Thor had in his first film has rusted to lackluster. Hemsworth's Thor lacks much necessary curiosity in a story that treats him as a boring muscle man in a cape, a negligent long-distance boyfriend, and a generic superhero within a generically structured movie. Though Hemsworth's charisma dons the costume with ease, his dialogue reading can also be a bit garbled.
Reintroduced to audiences before Thor himself, Tom Hiddleston's grasshopper-helmet man evil brother Loki has concreted his presence in the franchise, and also a complete nag (at least James Bond dropped Blofeld eventually). Hiddleston's dim trickery is unfortunately misconstrued for a complicated emotional background — dude just wants the throne Thor could really care less about. To bring him back in this film, after The Avengers, is more admittance that creative juice is running low for striking new characters in this universe. Hiddleston's usual charm of grinning sadistic sarcasm is one of the only shots this film has, but fails to provide the comic relief from the inconsequential boredom he is all a part of.
Other characters return with little advancement to becoming entertaining non-violent heroes; Natalie Portman is The Girl, defined by her big science words and status as Thor's Girlfriend, Kat Dennings contributes diced one-liners that yearn to count as spunky comic relief, and Stellan Skarsgaard plays up a mad scientist who has a goofy moment shown twice for the same non effect. Idris Elba, potentially the most talented actor in the lot not named Anthony Hopkins (who himself should take his character's own advice when he says "At least pretend to enjoy yourself"), continues to round the demographics as a bouncer, and an inefficient one at that.
There are passages in the film where the audience is taunted for their yawning disinterest in such characters supposedly central to the script's dramatic ambitions. A maniacal reveal of the lead villain whose face is (gasp!) half-burned caused me to laugh out loud; an extended funeral scene for a side character with no influence to the story is memorialized with a bunch of other nothing soldiers, is a forceful waste of time.
Were the aspirations of story wider for Thor: The Dark World, the film would be a lazy bungle worthy of the George Lucas-masterminded Star Wars prequels, complete with an gluttony of dorky mythology that doesn't stick with numbed viewers, famished action mishmashes with no inspiration, and random Jedis I mean Asgardians who appear briefly to hoist a weapon on-screen, and then vanish. With no pulse to its action, Thor: The Dark World instead tries to subside as a fantasy subgenre kitchen sink; a medieval-like battle in the woods is later followed up by an aerial spaceship attack yanked from the 20th century complete with machine gun turrets. Sometimes swords have a more Lightsaber effect to them, and in other cases they are the more classic representations of swords. The action art direction is not creative here but convenient, a gentler way of accusing the filmmakers of laziness when making a fantasy movie that indeed owes to no immediate technological standard, but still needs some type of ground. Who has a space ship and who does not? Who has discovered lazer guns, invisibility etc. and who has not? No such tension can be found when the action has the boundlessness of a boy's toy chest, where any weapon seems probable for appearance, because the script wills it more than the industrialization from its own characters.
The same script that features the clunky whine for help "We are all but defenseless" is not without other dingy dramatic nonsense, specifically the script's penchant for surprise hologram reveals. When one character is shown to actually be another, it is not a clever act from the screenwriters, but a manipulative one, in which the logistics behind such trickery is essentially endless. It's not just the Mission Impossible II face-masking, but a more immediate physical one as well — a character loses their hand at one point, but it returns almost immediately just because (and because we're suckers).
Thor: The Dark World recognizes that another way to lose audiences in its placement in Marvel's abusive "Phase Two" is to inundate them with lackluster mythology, this particular film dumping a Lord of the Rings-esque backstory in the beginning, with consistent conversations following about the thing discussed, which then in the movie's tag is rendered to be actually not that important in a slightly bigger picture. There are also numerous realms whose names were constructed with more creativity than the settings themselves.
Next to the cameo of another Avenger, the largest intentional laugh earned by Thor: The Dark World belongs to a moment in which Thor does something trivial with his hammer — regular for human beings, but amusing at the least to witness with someone not used to such formalities. It's a strong bid for why Thor: The Dark World is remarkably dull in comparison to Thor — by losing its outsider aspect the character is left to thump his dumb hammer in an overly serious realm of generic action and inconsequential mythologies, without a gritty opposition from his environment. At least on the foreign realm of Earth, there's the challenge in pondering whether Thor enjoys shawarma.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10