Kenneth Branagh’s Thor was at its best not when its titular character was engaged in bloody battle or prattling on about the mystical alien realm of Asgard. No, the original succeeded because it was surprisingly funny: Chris Hemsworth played the muscle-bound god with a magical hammer with just the right touch of levity. He was a fish out of water on Earth and a bumbling braggart at home.
When Thor: The Dark World works—and it does, occasionally, work extremely well—it’s when the cast and crew remember the fundamental absurdity of the world they inhabit. Small comic touches, such as Thor folding himself into the front seat of a Volvo station wagon or hanging his mystical mallet Mjolnir on a coat rack because that’s where everyone else is putting their things, bring this cinematic world to life.
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When Thor: The Dark World doesn’t work—and it doesn’t, far more frequently—it’s when writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, and director Alan Taylor, forget what they’re doing and take the whole thing much too seriously.
Endless reams of dialogue about worlds aligning and dark elves summoning forth and a cosmic weapon called the aether go on and on. The babble sucks the fun right out of the proceedings and raised the stakes to absurd levels so that, yet again, the world—nay, the universe!—is in danger.
Needless to say, there’s only one Asgardian who can save us.
Picking up two years after Thor, the thunder god has finally quelled the chaos that engulfed his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) kingdom following the destruction of the bifrost (a mystical rainbow bridge connecting the realms). Thor is lonely, having spent the last years maintaining order in Asgard and being able to do little more than spy on his love, Jane (Natalie Portman).
When Jane runs into trouble, Thor comes to her rescue. But their reunion is not a happy one: She has been infected by the aether, a weapon sought by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of a long-thought-extinct race of dark elves. There is a great deal of exposition regarding exactly what the dark elves are and what they want (it involves destroying the universe and ushering in darkness, or something), but what does it matter? They’re bad, they want to get a weapon to help them beat the good guys and destroy the universe, and that’s that.
Thor cannot stop Malekith on his own: He needs his brother, Loki. The trickster god has been imprisoned on Asgard following the events of The Avengers, during which he led an alien invasion that killed untold thousands. Loki and Thor’s interactions bring the screen to life in a way that no other pairing manages to do. It’s a shame that Hiddleston and Hemsworth spend so few minutes onscreen together.
Make sure to stick around after the credits for a pair of teasers. And avoid seeing the movie in 3D if possible: It adds nothing to the experience but a few bucks at the box office and a headache later on.