New superhero romp is mostly flash and lightning, but Tom Hiddleston’s Loki brings the thunderDirected by Alan Taylor Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston Rated PG-13 Release Date Nov. 15 Rating 4/5
Marvel’s 2011 “Thor” film was an incredible gamble. Unlike other popular superheroes — think Batman, Iron Man or Captain America — that are grounded more in reality, Thor is something of a fantastical character. He’s an advanced, nigh-immortal alien that wears fancy armor, speaks in Ye Olde English and acts like a Norse god. But Marvel managed to pull it off, all the same, mainly by hiring renowned Shakespeare filmmaker Kenneth Branagh to direct. Branagh focused in with precision on the, well, Shakespearean nature of Thor’s family life. The relationship between him, his father Odin and brother Loki generated real strife — the anger of a shunned, adopted prince, the disappointment of a father who sees both his sons as failures — Thor dealt with large-scale, royal family drama.
In “The Dark World,” director Alan Taylor ditches the Shakespeare of the first film in favor of channeling the goofy, bombastic comic books of the ʼ60s and ʼ70s that never took themselves too seriously. This time around, Thor must stop an ancient villain, Malekith the Accursed, from using an ancient force known as the Aether to turn all the universe to darkness. The plot is about as straightforward as they come, even if the film is anything but; humor, punchlines and one-liners abound in this film, and it may be the funniest Marvel movie yet, with more laughs than you can shake a hammer at — including a hilarious cameo by an “Avengers” character.
All the major players return, of course, from fangirl gods Loki and Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Rush,” “Star Trek”) to Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”) as the plucky scientist-slash-love interest, Jane. Our leads are a stolid bunch — Portman and Hemsworth have chemistry, but the film gives them little time to stretch and play with it, too busy shuffling them along from Asgard to Earth and half a dozen other worlds in between. Thor has really grown as a character since the first film, both more rational in his decisions as a ruler and more measured in his plans as a warrior, and the accumulated experience of three films is in good display here. Jane does not fare as well, spending most of the film either unconscious or held captive.
In all honesty, Loki is the star of this show. Tom Hiddleston (“Deep Blue Sea,” “Midnight in Paris”) has truly created a rich and compelling villain for the ages, one with righteous anger from royal birthright denied, as well as the boyish charm of a petulant prince. In “The Dark World,” Hiddleston is completely in top form. He portrays Loki as the villain you want to see succeed just about as much as you want to see him get what’s coming to him — a villain with a constant glint of redemption. Whenever he is onscreen, the entire film lights up and becomes a multi-layered, emotional experience on par with “The Avengers.”
Unfortunately, most everyone else in the film is short-changed — most notably Christopher Eccleston (“Doctor Who”) as the big, bad Malekith, this time around. Eccleston is not only smeared in makeup and CGI but also made to talk in a knock-off “Lord of the Rings”-style elf language, given an artificially deepened voice and speak the most cornball “destroy the world” villain dialogue we’ve heard since the lackluster “Fantastic Four” films.
This isn’t to say that “The Dark World” is a bad film. It’s not. It’s a solid popcorn flick with well-choreographed action and set pieces anchored with actual stakes — our favorite characters in danger. In addition, it bears repeating that this “Thor” is legitimately funny, poking fun at itself almost as much as it takes its “end of the world” plot seriously, and it is certainly the most simply enjoyable superhero film of the year. It has a straightforward plot, great laughs and a handful of weightier, compelling character moments. For the most part, however, “The Dark World” straddles the line between being a good, enjoyable film and a great one. Aside from the Loki scenes, it never really goes above and beyond the call of duty that we expect from a superhero film in a post-“Avengers” world.