You can smell the fresh paint on Marvel holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet strictly commercial seasonal entry in the Marvel cinematic universe behemoth.
The latest installment is a step back from Kenneth Branagh's goofy and grand first franchise installment, Thor. While not likely to piss off superhero film fans, this sequel from director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds away, either. It's a semi-efficient placeholder flick moving us toward the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015.
Chris Hemsworth returns as that incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he's off fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album title, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth.
As for bad Thor brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston owning it), he's doing dungeon time in Asgard (a land seemingly named after a mini-rock opera by Rush), basically in trouble for what he did to New York City.
Things come to a head when ancient villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston looking silly in a lot of makeup) awakens from his slumber and seeks out a powerful dark force called the Aether. With this power harnessed, Malekith looks to cause some deep trouble during an event called the Convergence of the Nine Realms, which sounds like it could be the title of a secret third side to Yes' Close to the Edge album opus. OK, I'll stop making progressive rock jokes.
Jane inadvertently gets herself deeply involved in the universe-threatening activities, and Thor takes her back to Asgard, where she meets the parents, Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). Odin wants his son to become king and marry a goddess, as most kings of the universe would want of their spawn, while Frigga seems indifferent and just happy to have some girl time.
As Loki, Hiddleston might actually be out-cooling Robert Downey Jr. at this point as far as the Marvel universe goes. He's a great talent, able to play a malicious bastard we strangely find ourselves rooting for. When Thor must call upon his nasty sibling for help in fighting Malekith, it's one of those "Oh, goody, goody!" moments that will have you rubbing your hands together with a sly grin on your face, perhaps embarrassing and confusing the person sitting next to you in the theater.
Minus Hiddleston's excellent work as Loki, Thor: The Dark World wouldn't be much of anything. Hemsworth is capable enough in the lead, but he's starting to feel like more of a supporting player in Thor movies.
I have read some fan chatter naysaying the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor, declaring that they have no real reason to be pining for each other. Here are a couple of good reasons: Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the most handsome man on earth, and the tremendously beautiful Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster! I, for one, see no further explanation for why these two would want to hook up, leaving behind their thrones and jobs to see each other naked. Makes sense to me.
The credits, in keeping with Marvel tradition, contain two additional scenes, one a few moments into the credits, and another at the very end. One of them features Benicio del Toro, and it is very weird. The other is actually the real end to this movie, so it is essential that you stick around.
As far as post-Avengers Marvel movies go, Iron Man 3 is far superior to this one because it did new things with its character and messed around with the format. Thor: The Dark World is worth seeing, but the hammer has lost a bit of its heft.