Chris Hemsworth's beefcake god stands down a rock colossus in "Thor: The Dark World." Credit: Disney/Marvel
‘Thor: The Dark World’ Director: Alan Taylor Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman Rating: PG-13 3 (out of 5) Globes
Is “Thor: The Dark World” just another inconsequential comic book spectacular? Or do we demand too much from light (albeit heavy and expensive) “entertainments?” In the 1930s — if not Hollywood’s best decade then its most energetic and delightful — it was common for story to take a backseat to nearly every other factor. One judged the six “Thin Man” entries not on their mystery plots but on the strength of the banter (and cocktails).
Let’s not compare a bellowing beefcake god wielding a boomerang hammer to “The Thin Man”’s Nick and Nora Charles. (Although fellow Avenger Tony Stark would fit right in at any of their parties.) But given that the comics blockbuster trend shows no sign of abating, it’s best to judge them if not as art, a la the Christopher Nolan Batman films, then by relative charm.
And “Thor 2” is relatively, at times, charming. The story will never be remembered beyond the end credits scene. If you must know, there’s a race of evil elves, whose leader (Christopher Eccleston) is such a generic genocidal maniac he’s not even given specific motivation for wanting to destroy the known universes — sorry, “realms.”
In the last picture, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was separated from his earthling beloved, Jane (Natalie Portman), who fell for him despite being over a foot shorter plus maybe a fifth his body weight. Their reunion — further stalled by “Marvel’s The Avengers” — is supposed to carry weight, but the smoldering never comes. That’s in part because there’s an apocalypse to halt. But it’s also because nothing important ever takes hold for very long. Major characters die tragic deaths, but the mourning period is brief, the spell quickly broken by action or jokes.
But Thor smashing people up is (usually) good, as is the sense of humor. The first film wore out the (surprisingly decent) fish-out-of-water jokes, but number two has a knack for odd gags that come at unexpected moments. (A throwaway bit involving, of all things, a coat rack makes for an unlikely theater slayer.) As usual, Tom Hiddleston’s baddie Loki is great, sour, mischievous fun. Also as usual, Hemsworth is a natural at being both square-jawed rugged and a parody of same: He kicks ass one second, then lampoons such gravitas the next. And where the first film was weighed down with a dreary protracted climax, the capper here is busy and crazy, with a concept right out of an episode of “Futurama.”
Perhaps obviously, it lacks the chops of a “Futurama” episode, failing to exploit its zany, sci-fi nerd premise from both writing and directing points of view. Director Alan Taylor’s action scenes are clean, but he’s lost when things go nuts. But it’s nice to see such a dorky attempt in a pre-sold product, made with the arrogance that it will definitely be a big moneymaker.
In fact, this “Thor” area of the Marvel universe should be insufferable. It’s a cynical mishmash of every modern blockbuster trend: a “Lord of the Rings”-type fantasy that also includes space and laser guns. (Certain battles look like the early ‘80s curio “Krull,” which tried to do something similar but without the built-in audience.) It throws everything at you, even groaning wisecracks from a sitcom star (Kat Dennings). A good deal of it, amazingly, sticks, even if it quickly slides off like a cheap suction cup on a dirty window.