Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Palookaville”)
Written by: Christopher Yost (debut), Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)
Before heading into the screening of “Thor: The Dark World,” my mind rang with an echo of a thought I had back in May, before “Iron Man 3” hit theaters. Here’s what I wrote then:
After the roaring success of last summer’s “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe is “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk—was build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of “The Avengers.” And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (which Marvel is now calling Phase 1), what do you do?
The answer with Tony Stark’s third outing, and also with Thor’s sequel, was to stick the character back into a solo adventure that, instead of being a chapter in a larger story, marks time with epic battles for Macguffins until we see the Avengers assemble again in 2015.
“Thor: The Dark World” opens in a flashback, telling the tale of Thor’s grandfather Bor vanquishing the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves. Malekith’s goal was to use a powerful force known as the Aether to return the Nine Realms to a state of darkness, but Bor was able to contain the Aether in a hidden stone column. In the present, Thor and his warrior compatriots have brought peace to the Nine Realms, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned for his crimes by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still missing Thor, discovers a portal wherein she becomes possessed by the Aether. When Jane disappears from Earth, Heimdall (Idris Elba) informs Thor, who ventures to Earth to save Jane. The Aether’s release awakens Malekith and his forces, who will stop at nothing to capture Foster and release the Aether, plunging the Nine Realms back into darkness.
To say the mythology is dense is an understatement. There’s an awful lot going on here that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, settling for a return to the status quo by the time the end credits roll–thanks mostly to a twist that seems to forego logic and is content to let future films figure out how to explain. For those concerned that Thor’s first cinematic outing spent too much time on Earth, “The Dark World” solves that problem by spending the vast majority of its runtime in and around the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid worlds of Asgard and beyond. While that answers the question all post-”Avengers” movies will struggle with—namely “why don’t the Avengers help out?”–it may leave casual fans of the Marvel movieverse feeling indifferent.
Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of HBO’s spiritually-similar “Game of Thrones,” has done a fine job expanding Thor’s home world, but in the process it seems he’s made the character more obtuse. I have a theory that at some point the general public will throw its hands up at one of these Marvel movies and say, “No more…that’s TOO comic-book-nerdy!” While “Thor: The Dark World” probably won’t be that tipping point, the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy,” previewed in one of the movies’ two post-credits sequences and featuring a blond, be-caped Benicio Del Toro, is the odd-on favorite to send this whole thing back into the sweaty hands of the fanboys.