Movie Review: “Thor: The Dark World”

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ThorDirector Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 “Thor” closed with Chris Hemsworth’s Norse god of thunder bereft, standing upon the ruins of a rainbow bridge. “The bifrost is broken,” we were told, which meant Thor was left stranded in his home world of Asgard, never again to see his earthbound lady love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) –  a wistfully romantic note on which to end a movie that was otherwise pretty lousy.

Of course, none of this pesky broken bifrost business kept Thor from dropping by New York City last summer for “The Avengers,” with some mumbling about Jane Foster being whisked away to a secure location (presumably because Portman had better things to do) while the specifics of our hero’s restored inter-dimensional travel privileges were never made clear.  Now it’s two years later, everything in Asgard appears to have been repaired – even that bridge – and Jane’s living in London, on a blind date with Chris O’Dowd. Thor hasn’t even called, the big jerk.

It doesn’t make sense why Thor would ignore Jane for so long, but then the same can be said for most things that happen in this sorry sequel. At least sixty percent of “Thor: The Dark World” consists of characters frantically running around trying to explain the plot to one another, hurling monster-sized gobs of exposition regarding the increasingly arbitrary rules of this fantasy universe. In short, it’s all just like that bloody bifrost – everything works until it doesn’t. And then it does again. You can do something until you can’t anymore, but then later you can again. Some people die and stay dead. Others get to come back, if they’re popular enough with test screening audiences.

Trying to follow this movie is like hearing a story told by an over-excited five-year-old who’s making it up as he goes along. I understand that only a fool gets hung up on logic in a comic book adaptation about a surfer dude with a magic mallet, but how about a smidge of internal consistency? Eventually I threw up my hands, accepting that literally anything could happen at any given moment.

A deadly expository prologue tells us of the Dark Elves. Led by an unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston, they’ve got an ancient grudge against Thor’s family, and have been snoozing for a few millennia waiting for a big astrophysical convergence of the nine realms that will allow them to cast multiple planes of existence into perpetual darkness. Or something like that.

As her rotten luck would have it, Jane stumbles upon a random inter-dimensional portal in the stairwell of a London housing project.  She’s suddenly infected with “the Aether,” a CGI mist that contains the world-destroying power those Dark Elves need to carry out their plan. This is finally enough to get her deadbeat boyfriend to come back for a visit.

Jane spends a good chunk of the movie unconscious, and while the rest of the cast wallows in tedious mythological mansplaining in front of kitschy Asgardian backdrops, you realize “Thor: The Dark World” has more in common with the “Star Wars” prequels than just Natalie Portman. Eventually Thor must enlist the help of his bastard brother Loki, imprisoned after that unfortunate incident in New York when he tried to destroy the world.

Loki gives the film a much-needed shot in the arm. Tom Hiddelston’s pouty, glam-rocker persona is at last something for Hemsworth to play against, snapping the big hunk to attention. Loki’s screen time was reportedly expanded during the post-production process, which may account for why Eccleston’s villain all but vanishes for long stretches of the running time. Even when there’s no reason for Hiddleston to be here, you’re still happy to see him. Nothing else makes any damn sense either, and at least he’s entertaining.

The blockbuster success of “The Avengers” allowed Marvel Studios to loosen up their notoriously tight purse strings a bit, so this time around we’re spared embarrassments like the first film’s cataclysmic climax being set in an empty podunk town with a chintzy robot blowing up a gas station. “Thor: The Dark World” takes place on a much grander scale, but even though replacement director Alan Taylor lacks Branagh’s comically tiresome penchant for Dutch angles, rest assured that Asgard still looks distractingly like the 1980 Dino De Laurentiis production of “Flash Gordon.”

After all this semi-apocalyptic claptrap, rendered almost unwatchably murky by yet another cheap cash-grab 3D post-conversion, the few moments that linger in the memory are throwaway human gestures – like Thor hanging his hammer on a coat rack, or politely catching a ride on a crowded subway.  These are enough to make you recall that the previous picture only worked when it was ripping off “Crocodile Dundee,” or how the cast’s banter was far more entertaining than any of “The Avengers”’ action scenes, and that “Iron Man 3” was at its best for the hour that Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t able to be Iron Man.

If Marvel is going to continue making movies about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, maybe they should keep them down to Earth.

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