Directed by: Alan Taylor.
Written by: Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and Don Payne and Robert Rodat based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Christopher Eccleston (Malekith), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Zachary Levi (Fandral), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Rene Russo (Frigga), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Algrim / Kurse), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Stellan Skarsgård (Erik Selvig), Alice Krige (Eir), Clive Russell (Tyr), Jonathan Howard (Ian Boothby).
One of the biggest strengths of the Marvel films surrounding The Avengers is also one of its limitations – that is, there is a comforting sameness about the 8 films made so far. So far, only one director (Jon Favreau) has directed more than one of the films (Iron Man and Iron Man 2), and yet visually, almost all of the films feel the same. Story wise, they also feel similar – there is always a villain who the hero or heroes has to confront, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance – and each of the plots connects to the other ones. At their worst (Iron Man 2), the films feel more like trailers for other films in the series. The series is always looking forward – to the next film or films in the series. The series is certainly ambitious – I cannot think of another series of this scale that has even attempted something quite so large – and for the most part, the quality of the series has been remarkably consistent. Yet, by always focusing on the large arc of the series as a whole, and having the same basic visual design for each film no matter who the hero is, it does somewhat diminish each of the characters – who after all, are remarkably different. One of the reasons I appreciated the admittedly not great, but still good, The Wolverine from this past summer was that it was a different superhero movie – a standalone (aside from the post trailer tease of Days of Future Past) – and allowed Wolverine to have an adventure apart from the series, and one where the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance – the stakes are smaller, but also slightly more intimate.
All of this is a very long lead into Thor: The Dark World, the second standalone Thor film, and the third featuring Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as his maniacal brother Loki. Like the other films in the series, the film is well made – this time by TV vet Alan Taylor – and is, for the most part, incredibly entertaining. The role of Thor fits Hemsworth like a glove – he’s beefy and charming, and has some excellent comic timing, which serves Thor well when he’s stranded on earth as a fish out of water (which, regrettably, isn’t for very long this time). Hiddleston is even better as Loki – in fact, I think this is my favorite of his three appearances in the series so far. Loki, now trapped in a dungeon below Asgard, has become even more cynical and petulant – he already lost everything, so now he’s decided to be a dick about it – which makes him incredibly fun to watch. It’s also good to see Natalie Portman back as Dr. Jane Foster, Thor’s human love interest, and this time the tables are turned – with her spending most of her time, in his world, and not quite fitting in. Portman brings a natural intelligence to her role, which somewhat offsets the fact that the movie doesn’t think of much for her to do, except be a damsel in distress, that Thor has to save – repeatedly. Of course, the film also brings back Anthony Hopkins – who is a natural fit for Odin – and even gives Rene Russo slightly more to do this time around as his wife, Frigga.
The story has something to do with long dormant Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston – a talented actor wasted under all sorts of makeup and CGI) – who was defeated by Odin’s father thousands of years ago, but is awoken when Jane discovers his weapon – the Aether – that he intends to use when the Nine Realms come into alignment for the first time in 5,000 years (or something like that). Truthfully, I didn’t much care for the specifics of Malekith’s plot – and neither I think does the movie, who just wants to have a series of action sequences where the seemingly invincible Thor is up against someone who actually stands a chance of beating him (although the mid-credits sequence, which I won’t spoil, does seem to indicate the series is not done with the Aether quite yet).
The movie is fast paced and entertaining – it contains good action set pieces and CGI work – and delivers what fans of the series want. I have ceased to be surprised by the series – you know the arc when you walk into the theater, and the films never really deviate from them – but that is not to say there is not fun to be had watching them. Seeing as how the series is going to continue for the foreseeable future, personally, I would prefer them to bring in more ambitious directors and writers, and let them off the reigns a little bit – explore the characters in more interesting ways. But that involves more risk than we’ll probably see from the series. Thor: The Dark World delivers what it promises – and I certainly had fun watching it. I just wish the series was slightly less predictable.