It’s gotten to the point where you have to resist slamming a movie for existing in the exhausted genre it does, a surmounting problem that grows only every few months. The “Superhero” picture has become the dominatrix of the movie world, whipping tentpoles into submission and handcuffing them to dull conventions and story structures. Not only has this led to an intense over-saturation of superhero movies, but even this past Star Trek bore an annoying symmetry to the superhero flick. It gets boring, and it becomes a temptation to secretly pray characters erupt into song and dance with Thor star Tom Hiddleston taking center stage, falling to his knees, and singing “I dreamed a dream in time gone by.” Luckily, The Dark World is, if nothing else, extremely confident in its grand ambitions. It’s also extremely fun.
Though, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the premise, or even during the opening half hour. The film picks up pretty quickly after The Avengers, finding Thor and company facing off against Malekith, the worst villain in Marvel movie history. Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston took the part, and I hope his performance was severed from the film (which was the case with Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2) rather than think the loved actor took on a role this piss poor for a cash in. If there was a magic eight ball of cliche villain phrases, it was shaken for every line of dialogue he uses in the entire movie, which he’s barely in. It really undercuts tension from the start, and the film relies on the successes of the film’s other parts to work. For instance, Chris Hemsworth leads a mostly great cast, and still proves why he was perfectly cast as the title character. That said, Natalie Portman’s so-so performance as the love interest Jane still doesn’t work.
A major problem with her role in Dark World has been seemingly unaddressed by the mainstream media thus far: Jane’s story arc is dangerously close to misogynistic. The god of lightning left Jane without contact since the first film, so two years, and Jane apparently went into a state of catatonic mourning that lasted almost the entire span of time in between films. The Kat Dennings character chides her for spending most days in a bath robe and forgetting she used to use scientific instruments, indicating a total life shut down due to a boyfriend running off. Worse still, she’s warmly back in his arms mere minutes after reuniting. Gutless. In the press, Natalie Portman has spoken of Jane with a quasi-feminist vibe, and while intelligent self-capable women are rare in the tentpole movies, Jane’s role in Dark World is one of the worst offenders. Somehow pretending to make a feminist statement and failing miserably is more maddening than staying ignorant. Anyway, Chris Hemsworth still shows he perfectly cast, and gives the romance what meaning it has. It isn’t much, but it helps.
Critics compared the latest marvel flick to Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings, and while both comparisons are appropriate—and in this case earned, the world-building and sense of palpable mythology is excellent —Thor: The Dark World was more reminiscent of another recent film: the recent superhero release Man of Steel. Science fiction played a big part in Zack Snyder’s preamble to the Justice League, and it was the first superhero film to reach out to a segregated genre and enthusiastically adopt its traditions. I say enthusiastically, because the first Thor’s effort to incorporate elements of the fantasy fell flat thanks to glossy computer effects and a contradictorily small scale, and The Dark World rises where these past films could not. There are moments of full-out sci-fi glee, such as thrilling starcraft chase sequences right out of a classic space opera, or the blue star charts seen in Prometheus. In fact, the action is great all around, and the third act has a genuinely inventive sequence that had my theater cheering. It’s a crowd pleasing movie, probably more so than many of Marvel’s other releases.The pitch-perfect humor of the first film wasn’t traded in with the dark-dark-dark tone the film tries to establish, and there’s a well-struck combo between the two. It's entirely due to Sopranos and Game of Thrones alum director Alan Taylor. This is personified by the spirited swagger of the opening war sequences, and it continues throughout the picture. It’s never more evident than when fangirl favorite Tom Hiddleston is on screen. It’s his best performance in the franchise yet, he’s finally given the chance to play the strengths of the character, and the screenplay does justice to Loki being the god of trickery rather than the sneering weasel seen in The Avengers. Loki and Thor’s time together on screen is one of this year’s cinematic delicacies, and fans will eat it up. I did.