A Review of Thor: The Dark World

Whatever its detractors might say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be an amazing achievement -- consider it a big-budget serial series with a new chapter hitting the big screen every few months.  Thor: The Dark World continues the saga as the Son of Odin battles once again to save all existence from the forces of...well, the antagonist and his motivations are only vaguely fleshed out, and that's one of the flaws of this and many of the other epic superhero movies as the saviors of the world duke it out with some macguffin (what Hitchcock described as anything used to drive the plot, even if it's not very fleshed out). Christopher Eccleston is buried under a ton of makeup as Malekith, a Dark Elf hellbent on returning the universe back to the dark void before creation, but that's about as much as we get in terms of motivation. He still does a decent enough job with the material, but he's overshadowed by the the special effects and by the other, more interesting villain, Loki, played to perfection once again by Tom Hiddleston.

I'm starting to feel numb to the special effects -- they were, for the most part, outstanding, but they hit me from the beginning as an overwhelming force with no subtlety. How many times can we see giants clashing and the earth torn asunder, beams of energy more devasting than hundreds of atomic explosions, and shapeless, shifting clouds of dangerous "something-or-other" (in this case called Aether), before I start feeling bored by it all? The best moments to me in all these superhero flicks have been the more intimate human moments -- Tony Stark battling his personal demons, Bruce Banner struggle to control his rage, Steve Rogers feeling conflicted about his patriotic duty, and in this case, Thor's relationships as the heir of Asgard with his father Odin, his stepbrother Loki, his mother Frigga, and the rest.

Thor's romantic relationship with Natalie Portman's character Jane Foster once again feels forced. His dynamic interaction with Sif (portrayed to perfection yet again by the stunning Jaime Alexander, who by the way would make an excellent Wonder Woman if DC ever decides to bring the Amazon heroine to the silver screen) is much more genuine and interesting. Jane Foster has some better moments this time around, but my attention rose more with the Asgard scenes (just as they did with the first film, with which Kenneth Branagh did a far better job directing than Alan Taylor does here, yet there were enough good moments in Thor: The Dark World to salvage an otherwise generic fantasy storyline).

Loki's subplot both steals and saves the show. At first I felt he was just pigeon-holed into the plot, since it felt like a stretch that Thor would approach his treacherous sibling for any assistance, but then (without giving away any big twists in the tale), it all makes sense and reaches a satisfying conclusion when we see how it unfolds. Some of the twists and turns were predictable, but others took me by pleasant surprise.

The cast all have their moments to shine -- Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis, Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig, Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Alice Krige as Eir, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Akbage as Algrim/Kurse. There are also a few clever little cameos that Marvel fans will enjoy.

Thor was always one of those characters I enjoyed in the comics and as a cartoon, but I never imagined they could do him justice in a live-action version, but Chris Hemsworth has proven me wrong, managing to make the god of thunder a believable figure -- as believable as any of these mega-powered Avengers and their infinitely-threatening ultra-villains can be.  Hemsworth delivers his lines and plays the action scenes with a terrific blend of gravitas and tongue-in-cheek good humor.

He deserves more -- and that doesn't mean higher stakes (after all, one can't go much higher than saving life throughout the entire multi-realms of time and space) it just means more focused and clearly defined stakes, some that showcase the humanity of these characters.  Even though they are near-invulnerable with the ability to alter perceptions of reality, they are also metaphors for universal truths about ourselves, they are the myths of our contemporary culture, as many have stated, which explains why multitudes still flock to these adventures of comic book inspired good versus evil, of almighty saviors defending us from destruction.

There's plenty to enjoy in Thor: The Dark World, and hints at more epic mayhem to come, but I hope they don't lose me with all the computer-generated bells-and-whistles that often bury the more intriguing human characterization (even among the superhuman) -- it's those latter scenes that make us interested when the world erupts in apocalyptic demolition. Without them, it's all just sound and fury, signifying nothing.