I get the impression that no one who is in Thor: The Dark World actually wants to be in Thor: The Dark World. Well, except for Tom Hiddleston. He seems to love what he does, and that’s great. But when the best performance in your film is by the guy in the credits stinger, it may be time to consider recasting a few roles.
Specifically, I’m referring to Anthony Hopkins, who has been brought out of the home to play Odin, King of Asgard. He seems utterly bored the entire time, except when he’s yelling, and I get the distinct impression the veteran actor neither fully understands nor cares to fully understand why he’s wearing this goofy outfit. Someone just handed him a bag of cash and pointed to the contract he signed when he acted in the first Thor, and so he suited up for a sequel.
Natalie Portman, I sense, is in a similar boat. She’s been handed several bricks of cursed Aztec gold to return for this film, but her heart doesn’t seem to be in it either. Chris Hemsworth does a fine job as Thor, but the script for this film offers him nothing like character development or any sort of arc- he’s simply the bland protagonist. On a similar note, Christopher Eccleston is appropriately loathsome as the new antagonist Malekith; but at no point in the movie did I ever understand why he needed to destroy the universe. I sense that his backstory and motive was left on the cutting room floor in favor of more space-explosions. Returning cast members Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings bring some comic relief to the proceedings, but never elevate it beyond just that: comic relief.
So, as I’ve previously stated, the only performance that’s truly memorable outside of the ending credits (which I won’t spoil) is Hiddleston’s. He is given his best material so far here, with a personal motivation for his actions beyond simply being butt-hurt about Thor being more popular than him. This, of course, applies only in-universe, as in the outside world Hiddleston and his Loki character have proven to be far more beloved than Thor. He is perhaps second only to Robert Downey Jr. in adulation among Marvel’s fanbase. He deserves it, too, as he clearly loves every minute he’s up there, and is overjoyed about being part of this whole thing. In this sequel, Loki must face the consequences of his actions in The Avengers, which he considers righteous and not unlike something Odin himself would have done. He’s simultaneously snarky, wounded, and vengeful. He steals this show.
My gripes on the acting covered, I understand that no one is probably going to see Thor: The Dark World for its stunning performances. They’re here for Norse-God-Alien-Space-Explosions, and on that level, the film delivers. Director Alan Taylor, best known for his Game of Thrones work, brings a visual style to the Nine Realms that was lacking in the first film. My brother (accurately) describes Asgard in the original film as “space plastic,” while this one makes it seem as if something’s actually going on over there.
The plot involves a “convergence” of the Nine Worlds; when the Nine Realms that make up the World Tree line up, the evil Ninth Doctor… I mean, uh, Malekith, will be able to unleash eternal darkness upon the universe. Disney fans will recognize this as the same plot that Hades had in their animated Hercules movie, but shut up. The MacGuffin that the villain needs is a cosmic force and cousin to the previous films’ Tesseract; it’s a light-canceling snakey thing called the Aether, and in the film it makes its home inside Natalie Portman, something I would also like to do.
The visuals, as I stated, are the best parts of the film and I particularly like the appearance of the Dark Elves’ ships; they straddle the line between ominous, wicked technology and evil-elf magic quite effectively. The film is also full of references to the Marvel canon; when you combine the credits stingers of this film with that of The Avengers, Marvel fans can see where the storylines of these films are inevitably heading. And it will be AWESOME.
Until then, though, Thor: the Dark World is what we have, and, my script and acting complaints aside, it works as a solid and entertaining entry in the franchise. Here is hoping Thor 3 gets a couple more Tom Hiddlestons to elevate it above standard popcorn-fare.