Before there was light, there was darkness. And in that darkness lived the Dark Elves.
Is that sentence too silly for you to handle? Then Thor: The Dark World isn't meant for you. A sequel to Marvel's 2011 hit Thor, Thor 2's makers apparently decided that the best course of action is to take everything that made the original the camp hit it was, and ramp it all up to eleven.
It's been two years since the events of Thor; the titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) has spent the years bringing peace to the nine realms, as well as thwarting the plans of his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), which you saw in The Avengers. However, when Jane (Natalie Portman), Thor's human love interest from film #1, becomes infected with a gooey, mystical substance called æther, it awakens the ancient Dark Elves, who seek to eradicate all nine realms and plunge the universe back into darkness.
I promise you that it really as campy as it sounds. In fact, going over plot details seems almost an afterthought at this point; this is a Marvel movie, which means that there's a very specific formula to which the movie will adhere. Heroes will be threatened, plans concocted, betrayals planned and thwarted, heroines endangered and then empowered—and as always, Hiddelson will absolutely steal every scene he appears in.
Luckily for disbelief-suspending viewers like myself, that recipe's not stale yet.
Since at this point you should know exactly what kind of movie you're getting into, I think it's fine to indulge in some movie meta-commentary here: it's interesting that the reviews for Thor and Captain America are almost exactly the same as of this writing (77% and 79% scores on Rotten Tomatoes), because they are fundamentally two different kinds of movies. Captain America was a movie that was easy for everyone to like and had almost universal appeal (this is a man whose superhero name is Captain America, after all).
Thor, on the other hand, was about as polarizing as movies come; despite its RT score, it's still (according to an informal survey of my friends and family) staunchly a love-it-or-hate-it affair. The determining factor is whether you're willing to sustain your disbelief for the requisite ninetyish minutes.
People who liked Thor (myself deeply included) lovedThor. And people who disliked it almost universally failed to see the appeal at all. And that's not a bad thing. It's an issue of taste, and it's subjective.
So again, Thor 2 is very good at what it does. But whether you'll like what it's doing is totally dependent on what you think of the quote that opened this review (and opens the movie). If you're the kind of viewer who would spend the movie haunted by the thought, Dark Elves? That's kind of really stupid—then this movie is very not for you.
There are spaceships designed to look like Hermes's shoes, fantasy and sci-fi coexist (and not subtly, either), characters run around Stonehenge in the nude and summon portals using glorified iPads—and, if you're the right kind of person, that's fantastic. It is schlock B-movie sci-fi fantasy in the best kind of way, the kind of way that the writers of Disney's 2012 flop John Carter dream about.
Thor 2 does flirt with the idea of being the kind of movie of which you can ask youth-group Discussion Questions. It has lines like "I wish I could trust you" (an opening for a serious discussion about the nature of responsibility?) and "I'd rather be a good man than a great king" (what's the nature of leadership, and is it possible to lead without having a position to call your own?). But it's far too self-aware to make any real discussion of underlying worldviews possible, let alone palatable.
It's just fun—really fun. It'd be a shame to ruin that fun with philosophy.
But there's more to say about the movie, and the convenient thing about Thor 2 being just more of Thor 1 is that everything valuable to say about it can be said in terms of Thor 1. So below, I list everything about Thor 2 in terms of Thor 1. (If something is 1x, it's exactly the same; 0.5x, half as much; 2x, twice as much.)
Amount of action—3x. It was indeed a superhero movie about the god of thunder, but the original movie had only three notable fights. Thor 2 ramps up both the frequency of the action and the number of places where it happens, resulting in some truly creative sequences. The final showdown with the villain is visually interesting, and is also a natural result of the laws of nature as set forth by the movie (as opposed to a lazy hammer vs. sword contest or something).
Scenes stolen by Tom Hiddleston (Loki)—12x. Which is just another way of saying every scene in which he appears. During the end credits of my screening, the audience cheered when a painting of his face was displayed; in contrast, Academy Award Winner Anthony Hopkins received zero claps.
Believability of Jane/Thor romance—0.8x. What's true of the first movie is also true here: the only thing keeping the central romance of the film from being horribly cheesy/corny/unbelievable/whatever is the fact that Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have fantastic chemistry. Thor 2 gets a lower score here only because the romance gets more screen time this time around, and its believability dwindles with exposure.
Number of scenes that function as overt homages to Game of Thrones—3x. The film is directed by Alan Taylor, whose past work includes twelve great episodes of Game of Thrones. This is more of a pleasant surprise than anything.
How tired Anthony Hopkins seems, as an actor—5x. I never thought I'd say that Hopkins himself is the weak link here, but he doesn't even seem to be trying. It's the only "camp" factor that doesn't work, because he seems to be in a different film than everyone else. It's like he's trying to play the same character he did in Alexander and Beowulf, but it's totally inappropriate for this context.
Budget for Thor 2—1.25x. $200 million compared to the original's $150 million.
How much the movie's 1.25x budget shows—0x.
Excellent use of 3-D—2x. The first film used 3-D really well, and its sequel follows suit; you forget about the effect the 3-D has when you're on earth and the field of vision is at max like 20-30 feet. But all of that changes when the film's focus shifts to the throne room on Thor's home world, with gigantic vistas and long golden hallways. It's pretty.
Annoyingness of Kat Dennings—2.75x. Welcome comic relief in the first film, unfortunate comic burden in this one. Luckily, though . . .
Funniness—6x. I know that's a large number, and Thor was already very funny, but the film is surprisingly hilarious, throughout the whole thing; it's not a laugh-a-minute riot, but every joke lands well, and it's funnier than even Iron Man, which had the benefit of Robert Downey Jr.
How much the movie stands out against other sequels, including (but not limited to) Iron Man 2, Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3—a lot. Not technically a numerical designation, I know, but it's a lot easier to appreciate Thor 2 when you realize that easily half of all superhero movies end in disaster, and all likely for the same reason—repetition of what came before. Iron Man 2, even with the fantastic screen presence of Downey Jr., began with the main character forgetting every lesson he'd learned since the first movie and being forced to re-learn those lessons. Thor 2, by contrast, picks up right where Thor (well, more accurately, The Avengers) left off in terms of character development.
And while we take that for granted most of the time, it's still good to remember that sequels are hard, and getting them right is a thing to be celebrated. (For more evidence of how sequeling is hard, see my take on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and its sequelitis.)
In summation: I say you should absolutely take your twelve-year-old son to this movie. And if there's any vestige of a twelve-year-old ethos left in you, then you'll love it, too.
A note on the star rating: it's not meant to be a universal indicator of how likable the movie is, but rather, how good the movie is at achieving its purpose. If a perfect movie with Dark Elves, portals, æether, naked Stonehenge visits, gods of thunder using their hammers to fly, etc., would deserve four stars, then Thor 2 more than earns its three-and-a-half.
Characters kiss, but never for long. Most all of the violence (of which there is much) is bloodless, but a grenade that sucks people into a black hole could be too scary for young audiences. An old man runs around Stonehenge naked, with all his vital bits censored by television pixelation effects. A man's hand is cut off, and we see the wound; blood and bone are visible, but it's a cartoonish effect that fails to evoke the same visceral feel that certain other televised deglovings have evoked. We see Thor in only what appear to be a set of boxer-briefs.
Jackson Cuidon is a writer in New York City. You can follow him on his semi-annually updated Twitter account: @jxscott