November 8, 2013



THOR: THE DARK WORLD:  Watch It At Home – The Universe Is In Danger! (Yawn)

Massive superhero adventures are now so plentiful that they’re a genre unto themselves.  Within Marvel’s Avengers universe, the Thor subfranchise is the least Earthbound and most filled with mumbo-jumbo, and that’s true as well of the (barely) new THOR: THE DARK WORLD, the second full-fledged Thor movie, although our third encounter with the Asgardian demigod and his big hammer, since it was his mythology that drove the main storyline of The Avengers.

Dark World‘s script is credited to five writers, Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for the screenplay itself and Don Payne and Robert Rodat for the underlying story (which usually means earlier drafts that were heavily rewritten).  Together, the five of them–not to mention the multiple likely uncredited scribes–were barely able to concoct an even minimally coherent, let alone involving, plot.  Somewhere in the nine realms of Asgard, the planet ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins, still slumming), with crown prince Thor (Chris Hemsworth) his successor in waiting, there’s a planet controlled by Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, under a mountain of prosthetics).  Many years before, the Asgardians confiscated and hid the Elves’ source of evil power, a swirly red smokey thing called the Aether that looks like the stuff inside a lava lamp.  Now the Elves are determined to get the Aether back in order to bring eternal darkness to all the realms, which sounds like they’ve tapped into the plot of NBC’s Revolution, but is probably even worse.  Anyway, the key to their plot is the Convergence, an event that occurs every 5000 years or so when the borders of all the realms become fuzzy and interactive, and since one of the realms is Earth–hey, Earth is in danger!   That hasn’t happened in… weeks!

The Thor movies tend to be windy and self-consciously mythic whenever they’re on Asgard or the other alien planets, but they have some snap when they come to Earth, thanks to the presence of Thor’s mostly-platonic love, scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman); Jane’s intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), who’s like the wise-cracking secretary in a 1940s detective movie; and Jane’s mentor Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who here is still half out of his mind (he streaks at Stonehenge) trying to get over his alien possession in The Avengers.  Even Chris O’Dowd, of all people, turns up to generate some laughs as a date for Jane.  That makes it unfortunate that Dark World keeps heading back to Soundstage Asgard, where Odin intones his lines like late-issue Richard Burton, mom Frigga (Rene Russo) looks troubled, and Thor’s sidekicks Sif (Jaime Alexander), Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) would all be interchangeable if they didn’t look different from one another.  Dark World brings Jane to Asgard, but she’s possessed by the Aether, so doesn’t have much chance for fun.  Thank the gods for Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s jealous adopted brother who’s been demoted from his supervillain status in The Avengers but still extracts the maximum wily humor, and even some hints of human emotion, from his lines.

By now we know the drill:  an action sequence every reel or so, a great deal of generic exposition leavened by a bit of wit here and there, leading up to a climax in which some city (London, this time) is banged around, taking the hit so the world/universe/realms can be saved.  The first Thor got a lot of mileage out of mighty Thor’s incomprehension of puny Earthly ways, but this time around he’s there on a mission, so there’s less opportunity for humor and for Hemsworth to do.  Even Loki doesn’t really have any surprises to pull out of his sleeve.  There are a few fun bits, as when another Avengers veteran makes a cameo appearance (well, sort of), but mostly Dark World follows the template.

Director Alan Taylor. a Game of Thrones veteran, can’t make any of this feel original, but he does some good work.  Dark World is fairly briskly paced, running just about 100 minutes before the typically endless CG-movie credits (as is Marvel tradition, there are not one but two “coda” segments embedded within them, both involving characters that probably mean more to comic aficionados than to mere moviegoers).  The alien vistas have a richer look than in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau (who, like Taylor, comes mostly from TV) and production design by Charles Wood create a more substantial and convincing set of worlds.  Even though the idea of a fight in which the battlers bounce from one location to another as they duel has been done before (in Jumper, to name one), it’s handled very well here by editors Dan Lebenthal and Wyatt Smith.

Since The Avengers raised the ante on superhero spectacle, it’s hard to get very excited about one that features but a single caped crusader, especially when the villains and plot are as familiar as they are in Thor: The Dark World.  Nevertheless, if you’re jonesing for monstrous aliens and stalwart protectors of civilization, this is the place to get your fix.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."