Dir. by Alan Taylor - 1 hr. 52 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
It's not that I didn't enjoy watching "Thor: The Dark World," it's more of an issue that I'm becoming super-aware of the Marvel Comics movie formula; introduce where the characters are at, big battle number one, hero suffers, then big battle two. Also, don't forget the post-credits scene. By all means, don't fix what ain't broke, but after three Iron Mans, a Captain America, an Avengers, and now two Thors (and the very recent "The Wolverine"), what's on-screen had better be transcendent, or there's going to be a whiff of formula dragging things down. If "T2" (as I'll be referring to this film for the duration of this review) had come out ten years ago, it would have been a game-changer. As things stand, it's a good film. Maybe not quite as good as the first "Thor," which I enjoyed far more than I figured I would, and better than almost all of the non-Avengers-related Marvel movies. But if there's going to be another Thor, it damned well better have Beta-Ray Bill in it.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a bad guy named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) tries to end existence, using a red goo of a weapon called the aether, but is deterred, and the aether is hidden, too powerful to be in anyone's hands. In modern day, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in Asgard, being held responsible for his actions in "The Avengers." Odin (Anthony Hopkins) dictates that he's to spend the rest of his life in a dungeon, without any contact with anyone else, until he dies, which is quite a long time indeed. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is out and about, quashing rebellions around the nine realms, which has left he and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) separated and without communication for two years. Jane, and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), and her intern, Ian (Jonathan Howard) stumble across some weirdness in an abandoned warehouse in London, which draws the attention of Malekith. And fights.
If you're dealing with superhero movies, the two big questions are whether the action is up to snuff (it is), and whether or not the visuals are top-notch (and they are). You could also hammer on casting, but seeing as how this is a sequel, you're either on board or not by this point (although I really like the cast of Thor, in general). The "Thor" films both have a spectacular cosmic look, and Asgard is still an incredible visual. Beyond that, the pair of battles with Malekith are engaging, and hold up. While these are definitely strong points in "T2," they kind of have to be. Like I said before, ten years ago, this kind of movie would have dropped jaws. At this point in time, you can't really give too much credit for spectacular fights and visuals, because they're expected, and to fail to deliver them would be a complete dereliction of duty on the part of the filmmakers.
So then you get to whether or not the story holds up. A huge part of the charm of the first one was watching Natalie Portman get flustered by a Norse God, and their dynamic shifts a little this time around (although not in a bad way, and it's not as if her character is unrecognizable). One of the things that the Avengers line of movies have done well is provide a sense of continuity; Loki's situation is because of his actions in previous installments, and whatever has developed between various characters isn't just thrown away out of convenience. At the core of this story is Thor being torn between duty and love, but the main impetus that drives the story is the usual bad guy getting ahold of a big-time weapon plot. There are a couple of twists (to be expected when one of the main characters' superpower is the ability to cast illusions), but the plot isn't particularly clever on this front. It is visually appealing, and works in a way that involves many characters, but since it's reasonable to expect that Thor isn't going to eat it before an "Avengers" sequel gets made, the stakes are necessarily not that high (despite what the story tries to convince you of).
In the absence of a compelling story with high stakes, the question becomes whether or not "T2" is a fun ride or not. And it is. The various characters have a fun dynamic, and the Asgardians provide the drama. It's paced well, and the action is fun enough to watch, and the things that need to look really cool look really cool. It is a fun ride, but it's not an indispensable chapter in the Avengers saga. The first film was, as introducing the character and his role in the Marvel universe probably wouldn't have been satisfactorily explored had it been a subplot in "The Avengers." This time around, "T2" is product. Yes, it's well-crafted product, but by the end of these two hours, the larger Avengers story hasn't been advanced meaningfully. To me, this is the first film in the Avengers cycle that you could skip without really affecting your enjoyment of the larger story. You'd miss a fun movie that has some pretty good moments (at least a couple of which are because of Kat Dennings) and some great visuals, but when you go to "The Avengers 2," you're not going to have to ask whomever you're seeing it with why something involving Thor is happening.
3 / 5 - Theatre (3D)