What weird sorcery is this? “Thor: The Dark World” may not be thunder from the movie gods, but it is — shock! — an entertaining journey into mystery, action and fun.
That wasn’t a preordained outcome. Thor’s 2011 Marvel Comics film adaptation — a crucial set-up for “The Avengers” — was a dull deal, with giant robots attacking empty southwestern towns and a brawny Norse mythology-derived alien superbeing. As directed by Kenneth Branagh, it tried too hard to bridge worlds.
Not so with the sequel. Director Alan Taylor, a TV vet (“Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos,” and, most crucially, “Game of Thrones”), has given “The Dark World” both a light touch and a streamlined feel. It cruises where the earlier film lumbered. There’s also a jolt in here of “Lord of the Rings.” It has its faults, but this is solidly in the upper sphere of superhero sequels.
Two years after Thor (Chris Hemsworth) helped the Avengers quash his evil adopted brother Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) plan to rule Earth, the blond God of Thunder is a good son to Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and misses pretty Earth girl Jane (Natalie Portman).
But a “dark elf” named Malekith (unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston) is after a funky mist called the Aether. This, we’re told, can be used to return the universe (aka the Nine Realms) to darkness. Jane happens to find the Aether in a chasm on Earth and absorbs it.
To extract it and protect the Nine Realms, Thor brings Jane to his disco-lit world of Asgard. But once Malekith gets the Aether and brings it to his home, Svartalfheim (gesundheit!), Thor’s only hope is to free Loki from his Asgardian prison and set off together on a tenuous partnership to defeat Malekith.
That’s a lot of gobbledygook, and reads like the fine print on a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Yet “The Dark World“ keeps its feet on the ground. Hemsworth has evolved into the Marvel version of Errol Flynn — he balances swashbuckling with sly humor — and Portman has grown into an appealingly feisty heroine. Her cute, snarky sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings) is a welcome return, as is Stellan Skarsgard as their now-brain-fried scientist mentor.
As it goes with superhero flicks, the true believers are the ones who’ll groove on it the most. In fact, anyone who considers a giant hammer (called Mjolnir, as if you didn’t know) as cool as a lightsaber or the Batmobile likely has more invested in the story than the average moviegoer.Let’s face it, the real villain here is essentially a gloomy meteorological phenomenon.
The secret weapon is Hiddleston. The best thing the film’s army of five screenwriters did is set the odd couple of Thor and Loki on a sort-of celestial road trip. Loki is puckish, malevolent, peevish, magnetic and, with his Rooney Mara-like pale skin and dark hair, the polar opposite of Hemsworth. Hiddleston’s villainous asides steal the show, and he brightens “The Dark World” when it needs it most.