Review: Thor: The Dark World (Just Looking For A Place To Hang His Hammer)

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Chris Hemsworth returns as the Nordic god of thunder and patron saint of linebackers in the sequel to Marvel’s Thor, unimaginatively titled Thor: The Dark World.

Viking bloodlust is a little too much for a tween comic book hero so Hemsworth plays his defender of worlds as a good-natured marauder. He’s a sporting god, a civil servant and Mr. Universe rolled into one.

He’s been busy since he left Jane’s side (Natalie Portman) and it’s been long enough Jane’s going out on dates…for the exercise. Chris O’Dowd seals his post as this generation’s answer to Ralph Bellamy, a handsome but otherwise ineffectual romantic prospect who finds some comfort from his loneliness in Jane’s inability to make small talk. Ultimately the character exists to prove the pathway between the worlds are opening and slowly clicking into alignment (for one moment there will be no roaming charges).

Chris Eccleston is at his peak of facial pointiness as Malekith, an angry elf who tried to take charge of the universe when Thor’s grandfather held the crown. As the realms syncs into position the physical anomalies around them begin to attract more attention. This is (sort of) how physicist Jane slips into the struggle, finds the evil aether (the Elves’ red, liquid weapon) and awakens Santa’s malevolent helpers. I kid—of course there’s no overt suggestion of Santa (unless you see potential in Anthony Hopkins), but the elves are pointy, live in snow, and are somewhat smaller than the Asgardians, but then, who isn’t?

As box office anticipation forces these super hero movies further into the territory of traditional serials, audiences can only expect to see more of the same imagery. What we’re witnessing isn’t Déjà vu. Production designers are a wily and inventive lot but the worlds they contrive are, by chance or design, growing repetitive—it’s not like Hollywood is asking them to design for something different, everything’s a freaking superhero universe. So there Portman stands, looking out romantically onto Asgard in flowing, foreign robes, and we have flashbacks to Episode I. Eccleston sneers over a dark horizon and we recall his conniving general in 28 Days Later (if with a lot more makeup). You can argue the actors are repeating themselves but I just compared a British General and an elf so maybe not so much. Somehow, though, there is a spirit present in this comic book universe that allows for the imaginary carry over and occasionally makes light with it.

Director Alan Taylor is a seasoned TV helmer and he’s worked consistently for some great “golden age” TV shows (Sopranos, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire) but his most recent time commitment has been Game of Thrones. The spiritual correspondence between that world of mystic battle and this one is felt if not particularly clear, but there’s a playfulness about these austere geek-worlds that’s sweet, reverent, and accessible. When Loki (a perfectly cold Tom Hiddleston) provides us an Avenger cameo, we can laugh, but also remember everything can be mashed in here, whether by licensed approval or unintended suggestion. Kirby Ferguson is right to say, “Everything is a Remix."

The Dark World is a great time—it’s high energy and low commitment (go to the bathroom: it’s ok!). It delivers on romance, brute force and epic spectacle in turns. Idris Elba wins badass of the movie when an elfin attack sends a ship past his watchtower. The fact he’ll soon play Mandela warmed my heart as his guardian/warrior compromised himself for Asgard. Frigga (Rene Russo) has a sexy knife fight (finally!) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) goes crazy, which I suppose is fate if you’re the only actual Norseman in a cast of Brits, Yanks and Aussies lampooning the gods of your proud land. But this is all play and despite Kat Denning’s snarking and Anthony Hopkins’ royal scenery chewing, Thor: The Dark World is delightful. And it’s possible the film’s most notable (and quiet) joke may be the sexiest thing Chris Hemsworth ever did on camera. I love me a tidy man.

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