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"THOR: THE DARK WORLD"
(2013) (Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy-Action: Thor must team up with his imprisoned brother to save his kingdom; his Earthbound girlfriend, Jane; and the rest of the cosmos from an ancient evil.
PLOT:
Centuries ago, the forces of Asgard did battle with the evil Dark Elves, whose leader, Malekith (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON), sought to use a weapon known as the Aether to plunge the nine realms of the universe into darkness. The Dark Elves were defeated, and the Aether was buried and hidden for hundreds of years until Earth scientist Jane Foster (NATALIE PORTMAN) stumbles onto a portal between her world and the Dark World and becomes infected by the gooey substance.

Against the wishes of his father, King Odin (ANTHONY HOPKINS), Thor (CHRIS HEMSWORTH) locates Jane, the love of his life, and brings her to Asgard in an effort to save her from the spreading Aether infection. Soon Thor's kingdom is attacked by a resurrected Malekith. In the attack, Thor's mother, Frigga (RENE RUSSO), is killed and much of Asgard is thrashed.

With the kingdom's defenses down and a grief-stricken Odin wanting only to guard his people from further assaults, Thor decides to take the fight directly to Malekith using the magic and mischief of his imprisoned, yet still power-hungry brother, Loki (TOM HIDDLESTON). Their plan may save the cosmos or doom it to eternal darkness. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane's colleagues, Dr. Erik Selvig (STELLAN SKARSGARD) and Darcy Lewis (KAT DENNINGS), try to figure out an interstellar phenomenon known as The Convergence that threatens their world and possibly all worlds.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I think the makers of the "Thor" movies have the biggest challenge of all the superhero franchises. As great and powerful as the thunder god from Asgard is, I don't think there are that many kids who grew up wanting to be him. He is one of those characters who is so powerful, so otherworldly, and so physically perfect, that it's hard to relate. I mean, when I was young, I would often imagine myself as Spider-Man scaling the sides of buildings and using my Spidey sense. I would often imagine myself as Batman with the costume, the cash, the cave, and the car. It was possible to be them. The same could be said of Captain America and Iron Man and even Superman.

But Thor? A thunder God from the realm of Asgard with the amazing hair and amazing biceps? I could never relate. Even Thor's weapon was never all that appealing. Who wants to lug a heavy freakin' hammer around everywhere?! A lightsaber is much lighter. Spidey's web shooters were so much cooler. Cap's shield was like the ultimate Frisbee and could stop bullets! Indiana Jones' bullwhip made that awesome CRACK! sound.

So, it's a little surprising that the first two "Thor" movies have actually been good, involving, sci-fi adventure stories. The key, I think, has been the casting. Chris Hemsworth is just awesome as the title character. If you make this movie back in the 1990s and cast Fabio as the lead, Marvel would still be scraping the cheese off of movie theater floors. In the '80s, there were rumors Hulk Hogan was going to play him. Can't ya just see Odin's favorite son yelling, "What are you gonna do, Brother Loki, when the longest arms in Asgard wrap themselves around YOU?!"

Hemsworth is like a gift from the movie gods. He not only totally looks the part, he 's also a pretty darn good actor. He has that quality where even regular schmoes like me in the audience can delight in his performance, even though on our absolute best day ever we could never, ever look one-tenth as good as he does. There's a twinkle in his eye playing Thor. He enjoys it. And he's up there on the screen giving his all.

And whatever deficiencies he does have as an actor are hidden by being cast opposite such terrific actors as Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skarsgard. The "Thor" movies also work as broad comedies with plenty of room in them for showboat actors like Hiddleston and Hopkins and Skarsgard to ham it up. The audience enjoys watching a "Thor" movie. It's not SO heavy like "The Dark Knight" flicks or the recent "Man of Steel."

But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot at stake in them. In "Thor: The Dark World," the entire universe is threatened this time out, not just Midtown Manhattan. A fearsome Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wants to use a centuries-old substance he once crafted called the Aether to plunge the cosmos into total darkness. When that happens during a celestial phenomenon known as The Convergence, he will become ruler of all.

Malekith hates Asgard for the losses it inflicted on him and his forces centuries earlier. His attacks against the kingdom do result in the death of one fairly major character and the destruction of much of the central realm. It also forces Thor to go against the wishes of his father, commit treason, and even team up with his duplicitous brother Loki (Hiddleston).

The middle portion of this film is its best with Thor having to come crawling to Loki, a sight the impish warlord finds amusing to no end. Director Alan Taylor plays around with the editing nicely in this second act. And even when the film gets heavy (there is a funeral sequence that is just spectacular), it keeps a playful edge.

Nitpicks? The final battle has become a bit standard in these Marvel films. You can only see so much Earthbound destruction in these kinds of flicks without it starting to all a bit routine and perfunctory. It's also a touch laughable that the human scientists Jane Foster (Portman) and Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) come up with these remote-control thing-ama-bob devices on the fly that can briefly open up inter-dimensional portals during The Convergence that can send people, cars, and even fighter jets from our world into other worlds and back again.

But if I were 12, I would totally buy pretty much everything that happens in this flick ... yeah, even the icky romance between Thor and Jane. Yeah, it diminishes the character's God-like "bigness" when he's doing it all to get the girl. But not so far that the next film will be called "Thor Your Eyes Only." I am sure some other massive alien threat will result in the thunder god putting down the roses and chocolates and heading out for more Hammer Time. I give this second film in the series a very solid 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 4, 2013 / Posted November 8, 2013


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