Thor: The Dark World begins with a lengthy prologue in which Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, in his regal and inimitable way, lays out the entire backstory of the plot in detail. Such an explanation is necessary because the film has very little to do with its predecessors and any reference made to the prior Thor or The Avengers is excessively strained for the sole purpose of maintaining the tired crossover bit that has made Marvel billions. Throughout this prologue, key supporting player Christopher Eccleston, as evil thing Malekith, along with a cadre of extras, cavort about an inscrutably dank CGI rendering of the mythic otherworld in makeup and costumes previously rejected by the crew of American Horror Story, a bit so distracting that we can hardly pay attention to the dense exposition because we’re too busy thinking of ways to make fun of it on Twitter later.
That happens a lot during the film, since so little of the on-screen action is suitably entertaining that the audience needs to find a way to pass the time. The Dark World is a painfully uninspired sequel to an original enterprise that wasn’t particularly inspired to begin with. In fact, Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 Thor remains on the weaker end of the Marvel filmography, plagued by weak CGI action and atrocious 3-D. That film did, however, develop a lot of charm by placing its arch protagonist in the modern world, playing the fish-out-of-water trope to the hilt, and developing legitimate chemistry between the characters. Sans Branagh, Thor‘s world is very dark indeed, boosted slightly in the epic visual department by veteran TV director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) but sorely lacking in the realm of viewer engagement.
Any sequelized comic-adaptation entity is expected to tweak the elements that defined the original. Thor: The Dark World, however, abandons ship on the original’s entire concept. Rather than displacing the hero in the modern world, they displace the original idea in a maudlin tale of mythic family strife accented with half-assed relationship angst and framed by a lifeless, monotonous display of CG grotesquerie.
Two years have passed since the events of the original film. In the interim, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been busy conquering other realms in his blunt and cockney way… but he isn’t able to participate in the debaucherous celebrations, for he misses his earthbound gal-pal, Jane (Natalie Portman). As despondent as our hero has become, he has nothing on Jane, who as the movie begins is apparently emerging from two years of depressed bed rest, still wishing her chiseled god would re-enter her universe. As convenience would have it, the star-crossed lovers are reunited by a random cosmic anomaly that results in Jane being sucked into a wormhole and enveloped by the Aether, an indestructible substance of evil that has been hidden for millennia by a race called the “Dark Elves” (that’s what the prologue was about!).
Yep, it’s that complicated… and it gets even messier and less comprehensible as the film progresses and this screenplay-by-committee creates additional plot wrinkles to scurry out of the original plot wrinkles. The bottom line is Jane becomes a helpless damsel and Thor must call on his dastardly brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to save the day. Along the way, there is plenty of familial drama, often capped by Hemsworth doing his best Jackman-esque shout, and celestial battles riddled with ungainly effects and unnecessary edits.
Speaking of battles, the final one is the film’s creative highlight, with Thor engaging the arch-villain in a cat-and-mouse battle through a series of wormholes as the “nine realms” align. But despite the conceptual creativity, it’s impossible to engage with the action since the characters get entirely lost. Hemsworth, in an unwelcome departure, is more brooding than charming. Portman seems to be dreaming about an entirely different movie. The motley group of returning supporting spice, led by Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard, are game but wasted with tired bits. Hiddleston is seemingly the only actor permitted to have any fun, but even he is swallowed up by the glum brotherly love material, which is more malignant than the Aether. I never imagined that I would one day look back fondly on the relative charms of the original Thor, but that’s the ultimate power of Thor: The Dark World.