Entertaining superhero spectacle is what the Marvel movie brand is all about. With remarkable consistency, it delivers movies that are just a whole lot of fun. They’re not in any way profound, but they aren’t going to insult your intelligence (too much) either.
This lighthearted, eye-on-the prize approach means they will never produce something with the prestige of “The Dark Knight,” but it also means they probably won’t make a clunker like “Green Lantern” either.
With “Thor: The Dark World” the result is more of the same; meaning more oohs, ahs, and laughs from a movie that confidently knows what it is, while never even considering moving out of its comfort zone.
I feel it’s important I clarify what a Marvel movie is because it is not simply any movie based on a Marvel comic. In fact, Marvel doesn’t have direct cinematic control over its two biggest titles, X-Men and Spider-Man.
The movies I’m talking about are the ones produced by Marvel Studios and involve Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and their assemblage.
What is even more impressive is that while these movies share the same thematic DNA, they each have their own distinct tone that allows them to stand apart from their brethren.
I have enjoyed all of these movies nearly equally, but “Thor” stood out, primarily because it clicked every item on my nerd-boy checklist. Part space opera, part mythology, part Shakespearean melodrama, “Thor” took its goofy Norse-gods-as-powerful-aliens conceit and ran with it.
We had earnest soul-searching with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), our spoiled hero, finding his nobility when stripped of his powers. We also had royal intrigue with Thor squabbling with his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), over the throne of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). We even had a romance between Thor and human scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Great stuff. Cheesy, sure; but still, great stuff.
In “Thor: The Dark World,” all the principals are back along with notable members of the supporting cast like Rene Russo as Thor’s mother, Frigga, Idris Elba as Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall, and Jane’s comic-relief human compatriots, Stellan Skarsgard as Dr. Selvig, and Kat Dennings (the poor man’s Emma Stone) as Darcy, the intern.
The plot, involving these bad guys called dark elves who want to destroy the universe, really doesn’t matter all that much. The fun in this movie comes from watching this fine cast give its all to a film that truthfully is beneath each and every one of them.
Well, that and all the eye-popping action and special effects.
Alan Taylor, who previously worked almost exclusively in television, takes over in the director’s chair for Kenneth Branagh. Taylor doesn’t do a horrible job here, but he lack’s Branagh’s focus on character and instincts on how far is too far when making a ridiculous movie.
I didn’t enjoy “Thor: The Dark World” as much as I did the original “Thor,” mostly because it gets a little too caught up in MacGuffin-chasing for large swaths of the film. Even still, it does provide enough space for Hiddleston and Hopkins to do some quality scenery-chewing and blows enough stuff up real good that I still had a great time.
At this point, I really shouldn’t be surprised as Marvel Studios has turned into an assembly line of high-quality popcorn movies. And you only have to wait until next April before the next one (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) comes rolling in off the conveyor belt.
“Thor: The Dark World” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.