Expanding through many different heroes, villains, movies and interconnecting all of them in the hugely successful The Avengers, the Marvel movies have become one of the biggest franchises and most effective marketing strategies of all-time. On the one hand, what they’re doing is not that surprising (considering how the comic book industry has relied on similar commercial strategies for decades), but on the other hand, it’s a gigantic enterprise that doesn’t cease to amaze on how far it is willing to go to keep getting bigger. Commercially, all Marvel movies have been a success. Creatively, though, there have been hits and misses. And diving right on to what people are calling “phase two” of the Marvel movie-universe (which basically means the movies leading up to Avengers 2), Thor: The Dark World features the best and the most frustrating elements of what Marvel has been up to.
The movie opens in Asgard, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is fighting an interminable battle to bring peace back to the nine realms. If this all sound very confusing and nerdy, it’s because it is. I actually admire the way Marvel has decided to embrace the weirdest and geekiest aspects of their comic library to give flavor and color to their mainstream blockbusters, but all these elements don’t keep Thor from feeling very bland and boring. The movie is directed by Alan Taylor, who made his name directing television shows such as The Sopranos, Mad Men and more relevantly Game of Thrones. Yes, most of this early part of Thor: The Dark World looks and feels like something out of Game of Thrones, but it lacks the clever writing and mature themes of the series. This is still very much your typical blockbuster with your standard McGuffin (a red goo-mist hybrid called the Aether) and a couple of bland villains called the Dark Elves (played by the wasted talents of Christopher Eccleston and Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje).
We also catch up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who has been unable to recover from the emotional aftermath of falling in love with a nordic God that has disappeared from her life. So, of course Jane comes in contact with the Aether, which moves Thor to look for her and bring her to Asgard. So far we’ve spent relatively little time on earth, and that’s fine but me, except that the stuff that goes on Asgard isn’t particularly interesting or fun to watch. There are a couple good moments, like when Jane is fascinated by Asgard magic/science; but whereas the first Thor benefited tremendously from the fish-out-of-water antics of Thor encountering our world, the sequel doesn’t do anything half as entertaining having the reversed situation with Jane visiting the Asgardian Gods. Chris Hemsworth remains one of the most charismatic actors working today, and he can be hilarious and incredibly entertaining as Thor, but the first half of the movie doesn’t play to these strengths putting him in a more serious position being smitten by the earthling doctor. And you might have learned in the past, surrounding her by sci-fi CGI backgrounds and having her fall in love is not a good use of Natalie Portman either.
Roughly half way through the movie, which up to this point has been very, very boring, a big development suddenly has important dramatic implications and finally puts the plot in motion in an exciting way. Thor has to team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has become one of Marvel’s biggest assets and without a doubt its most memorable villain. The banter between Thor and Loki provides some of the most entertaining moments of the movie and brings life back to the otherwise by-the-numbers and only occasionally entertaining procedures.
By the time we go back to London for the third act of the movie, I was kind of exhausted by Thor: The Dark World. However, all of that went away very quickly as the final confrontation unfolded before me. Giant CG-infused battles that destroy cities have been become so common in our blockbusters nowadays they usually only inspire boredom. The final battle of Thor: The Dark World, on the other hand, is just amazing. It plays with science fiction elements in an almost farcical way that make it as effective as the gigantic battle of The Avengers without having the same scope. That last part of the film is so funny, inventive, ingenious and entertaining it made me wish so hard the rest of the movie could have been just a little better. As it stands now, I can’t quite bring myself to say Thor: The Dark World is a good movie, no matter how much I loved its last half hour.
Grade: 5 out of 10