An air of familiarity surrounds Thor: The Dark World

by Mark Burger

The Marvel movie steamroller plows along with Thor: The Dark World, a followup to the 2011 fantasy that introduced the blonde, brawny superhero to the big screen. As befits most sequels, the second time around isn’t as good as the first.

Actually, Thor: The Dark World isn’t a bad movie, and it isn’t all that disappointing either. Box-office bonanza notwithstanding, the original Thor itself wasn’t among the best Marvel movies. With original director Kenneth Branagh busy making Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (in which he also plays the heavy), Alan Taylor assumes the reins this time out.

Chris Hemsworth again plays Thor, again supported by Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander and Tom Hiddleston, who easily steals the show as Thor’s bad-seed brother Loki. (Die-hard Marvel Comics mavens can rest assured that founder Stan Lee contributes his obligatory cameo appearance.)

With Loki locked up after his shenanigans in The Avengers, the primary villain this time is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, buried under Nosferatu makeup), who plans a major assault on Thor’s home world of Asgard. If Malekith and his Dark World minions triumph, “The very fabric of reality is going to be torn apart.”

What less would anyone expect? Equally expected is how it all turns out. The requisite comic-book action and spectacle are on display throughout, and although Thor: The Dark World isn’t boring, it’s a routine addition to the Marvel screen canon.

Of course, the Malekith’s threat extends beyond Asgard to our own planet, with Thor’s earthbound gal-pal Jane Foster (Portman) in particular jeopardy. Portman has some nice comedic moments amidst the big-budget bombast, but others in the cast have little reason, story wise, to be here, except to bring back familiar faces and add a few new ones, including a comic-relief Chris O’Dowd. Skarsgard spends most of his time in his underwear, a joke that gets very old very fast. Dennings gets off a few zingers, Hopkins a few wizened growls, and Elba manages to give even the silliest dialogue a modicum of dignity. Hemsworth looks the role, which is really all that’s required of him.

Even though Thor is the title character, he often seems wedged into an awkward ensemble format. Perhaps it’s an attempt to replicate the similar approach of The Avengers, or maybe it’s because Thor is rather a limited character to begin with. The humor stems primarily from how he reacts to Earth culture and vice-versa. Thor doesn’t have the neuroses of Iron Man’s Tony Stark, the identity crisis of Superman’s Clark Kent, or the inner torment of Batman’s Bruce Wayne or The Hulk’s Bruce Banner. He’s just Thor.

With so many superhero movies in recent years and so many in various stages of development, a certain amount of overkill has set in. These films, as flashy and well made as they may be – including this one, to be sure – are in serious danger of losing their individual and collective novelty. (Animated films aren’t far behind, for much the same reason.)

Certainly, Thor: The Dark World will make its millions — it’s already started, having been released overseas first — and just as certainly Thor will be back. And he’ll save the day again. And again.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2013, Mark Burger

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