Film Review: Thor: The Dark World

Elegant, powerful visuals, superheroic soap opera, and great chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston largely overcome plot problems in this satisfying sequel.

Is it wrong that the best relationship in Thor: The Dark World is between the titular Norse-god superhero and his adoptive brother Loki? To take nothing away from Oscar-winner Natalie Portman as Thor's love interest, the mortal Jane Foster, it's the complicated love-hate between Thor and the trickster god Loki that you can't turn your eyes from. Maybe it's the bro code, bro—that embodiment of young males' got-your-back baseline that, until we pair off with our future mates, overcomes all infuriation. Maybe it's the romanticized, literary allure of wartime brothers-in-arms—literally, brothers-in-arms. Or maybe it's something as simple as the actors' screen-partner chemistry, that thing that sparked between Hope and Crosby, Culp and Cosby, Felix and Oscar. Loki and Thor would kill it together in the Asgardian dinner-theatre production of The Odd Couple.

In this sequel to 2011’s Thor, it's been two years since the god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role from that film and 2012's Marvel's The Avengers) has seen his earthly love Jane. Though he'd returned to Earth in the latter film to defend it against an alien invasion instigated by Loki (the ever-magnetic Tom Hiddleston), Jane had been placed in safekeeping by the superspy agency SHIELD. And in any case, as we learn, Asgard's realms were at war with each other, necessitating Thor's continued presence.

Loki since the invasion has been imprisoned, disappointing his loving adoptive mother, Frigga (Rene Russo). As for his adoptive father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), King of Asgard, well, if the charming Loki can be a manipulative bastard, we know where he gets it from.

Clearly, all this harkens back to Marvel Comics' patented brand of superheroic soap opera, which makes this eighth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so fun and so emotionally engaging even when plot holes—make that plot black-holes—threaten to suck all story logic into the same pre-Big Bang darkness that the movie's Big Bad, the villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), desires. For instance, wouldn't that render Malekith and his ilk null and void as well? And why do the Asgardians, who have high-tech space bazookas, bring swords to a ray-gun fight? And how is it that London can be under a siege unto Armageddon and yet people are lah-de-dah-ing in the Underground? I don't know about you, but nobody was lah-de-dah-ing in the New York City subways a half-hour after the planes hit on 9/11. Either the story here isn't as well-thought-out as it might have been or it was well-thought-out and not well-explained.

And despite all that—plus a coincidence of Shakespearean proportion that gets Jane imbued with the universe-destroying energy that Malekith covets—Thor: The Dark World somehow works. While I'm not sure I'd cut any subsequent Thor film the same slack if such plot problems reappear, as far as this one goes, director Alan Taylor and company create a satisfying tension between epic scale and visual grit—a stunning Viking funeral here, a desolate wasteland there—and Thor and Loki crackle like a couple in a screwball comedy, except that when these two threaten to kill each other they absolutely mean it.

Kat Dennings (TV’s “2 Broke Girls”) as Foster's intern again displays home-run comic timing, newcomer Jonathan Howard as fellow intern Ian Boothby makes a strong impression, and Chris O'Dowd breaks your heart as the nicest, most decent guy in the world, who doesn't even know he's competing against a Norse god for Jane. Marvel impresario Stan Lee has his usual cameo, as does, uncredited, a cast member of The Avengers. One of the two end-credit sequences is directed by James Gunn of Marvel's upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy and features that film's Benicio del Toro and Ophelia Lovibond.

But…how come SHIELD, which has eyes everywhere, just lets its valuable consultant Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) get thrown into a mental ward? Is that how SHIELD takes care of its own? And why is it that…ahhh, never mind. The good stuff more than balances the bad, and even at nearly two hours, the movie never drags and stuffs in moments you can't forget. We'll forgive them the plot holes. This time.