Thor: The Dark World is a sequel to 2010’s Thor, a Marvel comic book movie about a Norse god who comes crashing down to Earth wielding a super-powerful hammer. In the sequel, Thor’s scientist girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman) is contaminated by a destructive matter called the Aether, and requires Thor and his devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleson) to rescue her. To make matters worse, a race of evil space elves are intent on using the Aether to conquer the universe. In short, the plot is cheesier than most action movies – even other superhero movies. It never makes a whole lot of sense either, but Thor: The Dark World is entertaining enough that it’s hard to care.
I never could get interested in the first Thor. The idea of combining science fiction with a medieval setting seemed tacky to me. Indeed, the first half-hour of The Dark World is bogged down by this weird setting. For too long the movie feels like a hollow cross between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings without the charm of either.
However, Thor: The Dark World is one of the rare movies of this genre that gets better as it goes on. In general, comic book movies are at their best when a superhero is forced into everyday situations (like riding the subway) that lovingly poke fun at how ridiculous he really is. The second half of The Dark World has several moments like this, and they’re hysterical.
Thor, Jane and Thor’s evil brother Loki (pronounced low-key, which he isn’t) are all rather bland, forgettable characters, and at first it’s hard to get invested in their quest. However, the supporting characters compensate for them. In Thor’s world, Sir Anthony Hopkins has an interesting, morally ambiguous role as Thor’s royal father. On Earth, the scientists intent on studying Thor (played by Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard) are remarkably funny and bring a welcome levity to the film.
The action sequences are a mixed bag – again, they get better as the film goes on. Director Alan Taylor is most famous for his work on the TV series Game of Thrones, but luckily the violence in The Dark World is less bloody and more whimsical. That said, the action is still outrageously over the top (at one point Thor is repeatedly punched in the face by a stone giant and doesn’t suffer so much as a bloody lip) but that’s par for the course in a movie like this.
Thor: The Dark World is a decent action movie that gets better if you don’t think about it too much. It’s the kind of film that we critics are supposed to turn up our noses at, since it doesn’t showcase great acting or superb storytelling. But it does fulfill what I consider the primary goal of a superhero movie: provide an escape from everyday life. And in a movie season dominated by dark, depressing films, that escape is more than welcome.