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THOR: THE DARK WORLD… more like “Star Wars” than “Lord of the Rings” (a good thing!)

Posted on November 15th, 2013
Posted on November 15th, 2013

by Coop Cooper

Since the events of the “Avengers” movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traversing the ‘Nine Realms’ of the Universe with his Asgardian army, putting an end to longstanding wars with his wisdom and might. Meanwhile on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has tried to move on with her life, although her investigations into the mystical energy of Thor’s world leads her body to become possessed by a hidden, Universe-ending energy source. The creators of this source, the Dark Elves, existed before all other life in the universe and wish to use this destructive energy to undo all life besides their own. Thor must return to Earth to destroy this energy and save Jane, but can only reach Earth through the help of his imprisoned, adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who cannot be trusted due to his role in the destruction of New York in “The Avengers”.

It’s a preposterous premise and the plot description does it no justice. This film is a vast improvement over the original “Thor” film and feels more like “Star Wars” than “Lord of the Rings”. There are spaceships, lasers, gadgets and a melding of magic and technology that pushes this film far into the realm of sci-fi over fantasy. The Dark Elves aren’t those of the Hobbit films, but more like an ancient race of evil aliens that employ suicide bombings and bizarre weapons of mass destruction to eradicate their enemies. They seem to have more in common with the ‘Necromongers’ of the “Riddick” films or the Harkonnen of the “Dune” franchise. They are creepy, frightening and wear masks molded straight out of one of the scarier “Doctor Who” episodes. Ironic since their leader Malekith is played by the fantastic Christopher Eccleston who played the Doctor when the series rebooted in 2005.

Thor himself has become the humble, gallant hero he was always meant to be and he feels guilty for leaving his love, Jane, behind as greater threats arise. Hemsworth always seemed comfortable in the role, but now he truly seems to own it. Portman apparently needs more direction for her character. She plays the role superficially and is only a few notches above the Padme/Queen Amidala “Star Wars” low point of her career. Kat Dennings who is riding the success of her sitcom “2 Broke Girls” is given more scenery to chew than Portman, but considering her character is a shrill comic foil, it’s hard to accept that as a good thing (although I do like her as a comedic actress). Stellan Skarsgard has been reduced to comic relief since Loki tampered with his mind in “The Avengers” so he spends the majority of this film naked or in his underwear. Tom Hiddleston once again steals the show as Loki, who is arguably the most complex and well-developed character in all of the Marvel films. I hope they can continue to find ways to bring him back in films to come.

The one character who begs for more development is Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) who acts as a potential romantic distraction for Thor, but her advances remain unrequited. Alexander brings so much complexity to the role that rumors have begun that Sif could get her own movie spinoff and Alexander has been publicly announced as a potential frontrunner for ‘Wonder Woman’ in the upcoming “Superman vs. Batman” film. Alexander has the chops and I look forward to seeing where her career goes.

90% of this film takes place away from Earth. That is a wonderful thing as it keeps the story firmly in the clouds and distances itself from Thor’s origin story to show how fantasy elements can be successfully utilized in a comic book film. It’s a vast improvement over the original and a huge spectacle I could not have expected given how clumsy the mixture of fantasy with the Marvel comic book world can be. It reminded me (fondly) of 1980 “Flash Gordon” film or even the 1987 “Masters of the Universe” film that somehow made the goofy “He-Man” toys into a watchable cinematic experience that competently balanced sci-fi with fantasy. Yet, “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t as cheesy as those films. It stands on its own and delivers a comic book film I never imagined I would ever see.

As usual this film has a ‘stinger’, a extra scene halfway through the end credits that heralds the next Marvel comics film and this one is very bizarre and confusing for non-comic book fans. It introduces a plot point to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film, a minor Marvel property which will be made into a major film to be released next year. The stinger falls completely flat. Actually, it will make NO sense to non-Marvel comic fans, even though “Guardians” sounds like it could be a huge potential hit. Nevertheless, a second stinger awards viewers who are saavy enough to stay until the very end of the final credits and it is a knockout for anyone who enjoyed the film. Don’t miss it.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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