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Thor: The Dark World review: Viking with a chance of wormholes

Thor The Dark World green light Tom Hiddleston Chris Hemsworth

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Think heavy-metal Lord of the Rings. With wormholes. It’s completely mad and kind of awesome.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first film; love the Avengers universe
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There’s elves in this here superhero movie. Real-life honest to sci-fi elves. Dark Elves, no less. From the distant past, etc, led by badass Malekith whose only been slumbering or something and whose name alone tells you how evil he is. And he’s after the Aether, which used to be his and is like the One Ring in that it can be used to rule the universe and stuff and it was supposed to be destroyed way back when and it wasn’t.

You can see where this is going.

And here Thor was his own self just bringing peace back to the Nine Realms that Odin rules over, after Loki went and ruined everything. It’s the last mopping-up battle as Thor: The Dark World opens, all immortal space Vikings versus monsters and trolls, all swords and quantum-magic hammers and energy weapons on distant planets. It’s crazy. I love it but it’s crazy. Marvel’s Thor and his folk and Tolkien’s hobbits and elves all spring from the same mythic sources, of course, I know that, and that’s why they jumble up here in at what feels like a geek gumbo, but it still makes my head spin in the most marvelous way. It’s like a heavy-metal Lord of the Rings. With wormholes — oh yes, ha ha, the wormholes. And holograms, sneaky holograms. And other sufficiently advanced science that is indistinguishable from magic.

It’s kind of awesome.

“Convergence is coming,” we’re told, from the Earthy sciencey angle — this requires physicist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Melancholia) to do some funny things in his research into the gravitational anomalies that are popping up around London — and from the Asgardy mythospeak that Odin (Anthony Hopkins: Red 2, 360) declaims. We can expect sort of a wormhole party, planets aligning and dimensions getting all mixed up. It only happens once every 5,000 years, and it’s now. Which is how Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth: Rush, Star Trek Into Darkness) mortal main squeeze, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman: Your Highness, Black Swan), accidentally finds the Aether, kinda like how Bilbo accidentally found the One Ring, in London but not really in London. Because wormholes. So now Malekith (Christopher Eccleston [Song for Marion, Amelia], under a ton of evil-elf makeup) is after Jane and the Aether she doesn’t realize (at first) that she has.

Well, sort of. It’s too much to explain. It’s too much to even sum up. Except that Malekith is definitely Very Bad, and wants to rule the universe or something, and the Convergence is his chance to do so, and so he must be stopped.

Fortunately, Thor needs must ask for the help of his naughty brother Loki in this, so we’re in for some good bad-guy vamping from Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris), who just when you can’t believe he’s suckered you into genuinely feeling sorry for Loki pulls the emo out from under you — Hiddleston is as much a trickster as Loki is. In a movie full of really great actors having a lot of fun chewing the scenery in voices dripping with plummy accents and swooping around wearing Mother’s drapes, the sort of movie in which you wouldn’t imagine anyone could outsteal anyone else, Hiddleston achieves just that.

A lot of what’s happening in The Dark World is a bit of a mystery, though only in a good way. There’s way too many screenwriters — five credited — for this not to have become a godawful mess, yet the movie gives a jolly shrug and lets itself float along on its own sheer madness. It’s often ingenious madness: the big finale is almost a sendup of action-movie last-reel ultimate showdowns, what with all the wormholes opening up at Convergence ground zero, which happens to be at London’s Greenwich. When you can wallop a bad guy on the lawn and he ends up on another planet, the rules change. (Director Alan Taylor, a TV veteran, takes over from Kenneth Branagh, not returning from Thor, and keeps a steady hand on the crazy.) It’s incredibly funny, which isn’t usually something you can say about action-movie last-reel ultimate showdowns, which have tended lately, when superheroes are involved, to unspeakable civilian body counts and citywide damage. The destruction in London is nowhere near as bad as what New York got in The Avengers — and may not have actually killed any innocent bystanders — though “London” will now surely be a touchstone and insidery reference in the next Avengers universe flick the way that “New York” is here.

This needs to be said, too: The Dark World assumes that the viewer has been keeping up with the sprawling film-and-TV Avengers universe: references are dropped to S.H.I.E.L.D. and what happened in New York, for instance, without explanation… and there’s a sorta-cameo by one of Thor’s fellow Avengers that is absolutely hilarious, but which will make no sense at all if this is your introduction to the ongoing story.

If you have been keeping up… Well, The Dark World isn’t exactly confusing, because all the interplanetary, transtemporal, multidimensional machinations are tidily explained and make perfect sense, as these sorts of science fantasies go. But it’s best to just let the experience of it wash over you, the better to enjoy the wonderful ridiculousness of it.

see also:
Thor (review)
Thor: Ragnarok movie review: it’s only the end of the world

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Thor: The Dark World (2013) | directed by Alan Taylor
US/Can release: Nov 08 2013
UK/Ire release: Oct 30 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated GAV: gone a’Viking
MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate fantasy violence)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Milten Steel

    Hemsworth wasn’t in Star Trek Into Darkness, he was in Star Trek (2009). Anyways, glad to hear it’s good!

  • He must have been in a flashback or something, because he *is* credited on *Into Darkness.*

  • There is a brief audio clip of him saying “Call him Jim” while Kirk is unconscious. I assume that’s why he’s credited.

  • I only noticed because Hemsworth’s scene in Star Trek is just about the greatest movie scene in the last 30 years. I’ve probably watched that intro a dozen times.

  • RogerBW

    I suspect that by the time I’ve caught up with the previous Marvel films this one will be out on DVD.

  • Not to get too far off topic here, but that scene made me care so much about characters I didn’t even know that I cried for them.

  • Right? It’s a shame there’s nothing as good in the sequel. Or the rest of the first film, for that matter. They’re still fun though.

  • Jonathan Roth

    I admit, I’m a little concerned about the interconnected sprawl.

    A big part of the reason that didn’t like superhero comics was the sprawling multiverse that refused to contain itself. You couldn’t collect a straight run of a comic book without crossovers and cameos, story-lines that continue in part of another title.

    This is less of a problem with movies, since it’s generally less of an investment, but if TV series are brought into this… yikes.

  • Bluejay

    I agree. I’m fine with the interconnected movies — they can only make so many at a time, and I can handle a story spread out over four or five films — but if I have to start following Agents of SHIELD (which I can’t, until it comes out on DVD) to know what’s going on, I’ll probably lose track.

    I think, however, that the movies so far have done a good job of telling self-contained stories that can be appreciated even without detailed knowledge of the overarching narrative thread. My parents enjoyed The Avengers without having seen Hulk, Thor, or Captain America; Whedon did a good job of establishing the characters at the start — Norse god and his wayward brother, resurrected supersoldier from WWII, everyone knows the Hulk — and my parents pretty much got the point.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Yeah. The current reorganization of TV and movie distribution really isn’t helping either.

    I actually miss Blockbuster. It’s become a hell of a lot harder for me to rent popular moves lately, and trying to watch TV without a cable subscription is still not entirely viable.

  • This. You don’t *need* to get all the little in-jokes in order to enjoy any of the movies on their on, but I like how there’s a sense of connection between them.

  • Martin

    Absolutely loved it. Very funny, beautiful to look at and somewhat unpredictable due to Hiddleston’s Loki.

    Still can’t quite believe how they ended it.

  • You absolutely do not have to watch or know about Agents of SHIELD; it’s fluff — interesting at times, but the show’s involvement with the larger Marvel film universe is left mostly to the odd name-drop or two, with film events informing the show, not the other way around.

    So, skip it with a clear conscience. Though it is fun.

  • Drave

    It may not be the best movie I’ve seen all year, but it’s definitely the most fun, and might end up as my favorite.

  • Sarah Thomas

    Maryann, thanks for the review and all the excellent LOTR comparisons. However, what struck me, and which I thought you’d appreciate it, was that this was totally a Doctor Who story.

    Think about it. Thor is the Doctor; he’s a traveler across time and space, defender of all the universes, equipped with an awesome gadget that lets him solve all kinds of wibbly wobbly problems, and clearly groomed to rule though uninterested in it. Odin and the Asgardians are the Time Lords. Jane is clearly his companion; waiting in London and being plucky and badass and cute, with a cast of comic-relief normals to help her with her own contributions to the world saving. Loki is the Master; not brother, not friend, not nemesis, but a curious combination of all of the above, ready to trick, deceive and save the Doctor while nursing very emotionally needy elisions of megalomania. And the Dark Elves, with their insatiable need for unobtanium and fixation on destroying everything that isn’t them? Totally Daleks. In the end, London gets destroyed, the day is saved, and the Doctor and the companion head out for another adventure.

  • Bluejay

    Well, that was a lot of fun. And a hell of an ending.

    Judging from one of the post-credits scenes, at least one upcoming Marvel movie is going to be absolutely bonkers.

  • It wasn’t wrong of me to be thinking during the ending that “Now they’re thinking with Portals!”, was it?

  • cal

    After reading a truly meh review of the movie in Entertainment Weekly, (they rated it a B-!) I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But I loved it! Both for all the reasons you mentioned, plus for the strong female roles. Thor’s mom is a badass, Jane and Darcy didn’t just scream and cry and wait to be rescued, they were intrinsic to the saving of the worlds, and the director threw in a nice bit of fan-service to all of us attracted to male beauty, to boot. A+ from me.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This was hugely fun and kinda nuts. The Avenger cameo was spectacular. Stellan Skarsgaard has zero shame. Tom Hiddleston is doing a good job reeling in the inevitable caricaturiztion of Loki. I have no idea who Malekith was or what he wanted or how he was going to go about getting it, and I don’t really care. My only real concern is that I’d like it if the character of Thor was more consistent. In some scenes he’s a muscle-bound oaf, in other’s he’s as smart as he is strong. The writers need to pick one.

    There’s some discussion about whether or not Loki has killed Odin. I say he has not and that we know that he has not, and here’s why: as much as Loki says he wants to see Odin and Thor dead, he’ll never be able to go through with it because…

    …wait for it…

    …Loki lacks conviction. :D

  • Jurgan

    This movie was hilarious, especially Chris Evans’s cameo. I agree with everything you said here, Maryann, so I won’t labor the point. However, there is one thing you either didn’t notice (I didn’t until afterwards) or, more likely, just didn’t want to mention: There are a number of women in this movie and none of them really do anything. *SPOILERS AHEAD* Thor’s mom shows up, acts badass, and then gets shoved in a fridge to motivate Loki and Thor to seek revenge. Jane mopes about missing her man- she does do a lot of SCIENCE!

  • Trey Patch

    Erick may have invented the machines, but he states that they aren’t invented to control wormholes. That was Jane’s idea entirely.

  • Zaruthustran

    Just wanted to say I appreciated the Princess Bride reference.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Ah, FINALLY got to see this!

    I’d heard rumours about that upcoming bonkers film. After seeing this film, I’m pretty confident that Marvel can pull it off beautifully. :)

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