Monday, November 11, 2013

Thor: The Dark World / *** (PG-13)

Thor: Chris Hemsworth
Jane Foster: Natalie Portman
Loki: Tom Hiddleston
Malekith: Christopher Eccleston
Odin: Anthony Hopkins
Heimdall: Idris Elba
Frigga: Rene Russo
Sif: Jaimie Alexander
Fandral: Zachary Levi
Darcy Lewis: Kat Dennings
Erik Selvig: Stellan Skarsgård

Marvel Entertainment presents a film directed by Alan Taylor. Written by Christopher L. Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley and Don Payne and Robert Rodat. Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Running time: 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content).

If “Thor: The Dark World” proves anything, it’s that Marvel’s Phase 2 movies promise to keep up the quality escapism level just as high as their Phase 1 movies, including the ones that don’t involve Robert Downey, Jr. “Iron Man 3”, released earlier this year, has so far been the best of the Disney/Marvel outings and is possibly the best comic book superhero movie made yet, but the second solo outing of Marvel’s Thor also tops its predecessor. The Thor movies lack the depth of the Iron Man movies, but “The Dark World” keeps the entertainment level at “Avengers” velocity.

Like with the original “Thor”, “The Dark World” opens with a voice-over history by Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, King of the God-like Asgardians. He explains that before the universe existed as we know it, it was ruled by an alien race known as the Dark Elves, who existed in a universe of darkness. When light was introduced to the universe, it was the Asgardians that defeated the Dark Elves and prevented them from returning the universe to the darkness. Although, it was thought that the Dark Elves had all perished along with their secret weapon known as the Aether, their leader Malekith escaped his race’s fate and the Aether was stored in a place where it was thought it would never be found. I believe we’ve all seen enough movies to know what that means.

In the present we find Thor back with his fellow Asgardians trying to bring peace to the Nine Realms before the Convergence, when all nine realms find themselves in alignment. Yeah! It’s kind of like speaking another language, but the movie seems to explain it well enough. Meanwhile, Jane Foster is trying to work through her long distance romance with a God by getting out there and dating again. Is it a surprise that no man can seem to live up to Chris Hemsworth’s glowing locks and immortal pecks? But when evidence of the coming Convergence allows Jane to believe she might be able to contact Thor again, her spirits lift. During an investigation of some strange phenomena related to the Convergence, Foster is pulled into the realm where the Aether is hidden and soon finds herself transported to Asgard with her love after she’s infected by it.

One thing that the makers of these Marvel movies have consistently done a wonderful job with is disseminating and incredible amount of background information and mythology upon an audience while keeping the action flowing at a breakneck pace. Director Alan Taylor keeps the foot to the pedal here while immersing the audience in the alien world of Asgard, which isn’t a far cry from the cutthroat world of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, where the producers found him. He and his writers use Loki, from the first “Thor” and “The Avengers”, to keep tension high in Asgard while Malekith sets his plans to reclaim the Aether into motion. Once he obtains his secret weapon from Jane’s body, he intends to use to Convergence to return all Nine Realms to darkness at once.

Taylor also wisely intercuts scenes from back on Earth into this primarily Asgard based plot to keep the audience grounded in a reality to which we can better relate. Kat Dennings returns a Jane’s mouthy assistant to keep things moving on Earth, and while she continues to bring the comic relief to the series, she’s nearly upstaged by Stellan Skarsgård, who reprises his role as Jane’s mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig, now drastically altered by the events he survived in “The Avengers”. It’s nice to realize that when the fate of the entire universe is at stake, some jokes about lacking pants still hold their comedic effect.

“Thor: The Dark World” is not going to go down as one of the best comic book surperhero movies ever made, but it’s a powerful testament to this magic formula the people at Disney/Marvel have concocted. It is an incredibly entertaining movie, in terms of character, action and humor. It improves upon the original with a much more interesting plot. And it continues to invest the audience in Marvel’s many other film properties. Be sure to stick around for the traditional Marvel trailer cookie, which teases next summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” with the introduction of Benicio Del Toro’s character The Collector. The Marvel movie universe continues to expand, continues to entertain, and continues to improve.

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