It struck me as odd that the ancient Norse bad guys in this movie come equipped with assault rifles and hand grenades. And I question, just from a visual perspective, how wise it was to render their most fearsome weapon as a hovering puddle of digital goo. But seeing as this is a movie about a hunky thunder god with a magical hammer, subsidiary quibbles are probably beside the point.
“Thor: The Dark World” picks up from the concluding events of last year’s “The Avengers.” Now we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) back home in Asgard wrapping up a two-year battle to bring peace to the Nine Realms, of which Asgard and Earth (and the delightfully named Svartalfheim) are a part. At the same time, Thor’s bad-seed brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), having made a fine mess of things last time out, is being consigned to the castle dungeon by his father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Meanwhile, back on Earth — London, to be precise — Thor’s girlfriend, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), continues to pine for her runaway super-squeeze. Her mentor, Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), is running around Stonehenge stark-naked. And her intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), has noticed some weird space stuff going on. This turns out to be the aforementioned puddle of goo, known to evil adepts as the Aether. This, in turn, is urgently coveted by the Dark Elves. (Not a name to strike terror, you’d think, but apart from their pointy ears and interludes of subtitled Elvish badinage, they’re human-sized sci-fi marauders with the usual nasty plans.) The Elves, you’ll be surprised to learn, want to use the Aether to … whatever, whatever, whatever.
This rococo comic book plot plays out in a sometimes pretty but more often airless environment of high-end CGI. And of course, it’s further encumbered by so-what 3-D (still a big deal overseas, where “The Dark World” already has cleared the $100 million mark). There’s plenty of action, in the familiar video game manner, but the movie feels rote (whoa, a portal!), and it comes to an end a bit too long after it should.
However, depending on one’s frame of mind, it also could be passable fun. Director Alan Taylor — more prestigiously employed on “Game of Thrones” — leavens the superhero bloat with wisecracks and campy quips. (Spurning a palace butt kisser, Odin purrs, “You must think I’m a piece of bread to be buttered so heavily.”) And some of the actors help. Hopkins is clearly passing through on his way to a paycheck, and it’s too bad the head Elf, played by Christopher Eccleston, is barely one-dimensional. But Portman has a lively comic spirit; Hemsworth brings a warm star presence to the title role; and Hiddleston, with his devious eyes and inscrutable smirk, remains a perfect Loki (the series’s true fan favorite).
“The Dark World” is a pit stop in Marvel’s long march toward total archive monetization. The movie will further swell the corporate coffers, no doubt; but it’s otherwise more than usually disposable.