“Thor: The Dark World”

     “Thor: The Dark World is a fusion of genres that leans more into the Science Fiction realm than any other Marvel film to date.  Directed by television vet Alan Taylor and scripted by an army of six credited writers, the film plays within the familiar tone set by the previous entry as well as the massively successful “Avengers” film last year.  Returning as the title character, Chris Hemsworth proves again his screen persona is perfect for the Thor character, as is Tom Hiddleston in his continued portrayal of Thor’s brother and nemesis, Loki. Taylor’s film never really takes itself seriously as each dramatic line always seems to be followed by a timely sarcastic quip from one of the characters.  This type of scripting is always welcome and has become a hallmark within the Marvel Universe of films where the lead characters certainly take care of business, but seem to have fun doing it as well.

      This time, Thor finds himself in a battle that takes place for the most part within his home planet, Asgard.  An alien race, known as the Dark Elves, were thought to be destroyed thousands of years ago, but have resurfaced and threaten to destroy the Nine Realms.  To do this, Malekith, the leader of the Dark Elves, has been awakened by the re-emergence of the Aether, a powerful weapon he intends to use to destroy the universe.  By accident, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) discovers the Aether while investigating a worm hole in London and the misty, seemingly alive weapon enters her body as if it were a host.  When Thor is made aware of this, he brings Jane back to Asgard in an attempt to extract the Aether and ensure it’s power remains safely away from their enemies.

     Malekith and his army storm Asgard in an attempt to reacquire the Aether, hoping to use it’s considerable power at the moment a rare event called the Convergence occurs, which will allow the weapon to effectively destroy all Nine Realms.  Taylor skillfully intertwines the action between Asgard, Earth and several other worlds, as a series of worm holes open throughout the Nine Realms with the battle between good and evil in full swing.  Thor as a super hero has a number of limitations which make the other characters especially important in a film like this.  I mean, lets face it, beyond tossing his hammer around, his skills are mainly grounded in hand to hand combat, which we have seen in other films many times over.  Rarely is fist fighting depicted in a film very original anymore and “Thor” is no exception.  Fortunately, his supporting cast delivers on a number of levels that effectively mask our hero’s shortcomings.

     Tom Hiddleson’s Loki steals the show, just as he did in both “Thor” and “The Avengers”.  He’s a mischievous, yet likable antagonist who blends into this film’s surroundings until he’s needed to punch up the third act.  When he’s unleashed (he’s imprisoned for most of the film due to the crimes he committed in “The Avengers”), the story really benefits as the stakes couldn’t be higher.  If our heroes fail, the universe as we know it would be destroyed.  Also making a welcome return as Thor’s mother, Frigga, is Rene Russo.  A background character in the first film, she is given a number of juicy lines and is highly involved in several of the film’s notable action scenes. Another character who could’ve used a little more to chew on in the first film was Heimdall, played by Idris Elba.  The all knowing guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, his heroism during the attacks on Asgard give him a role with a significant amount of substance, both with his skills in battle and his all important assistance to Thor.  Anthony Hopkins and Jaime Alexander also reprise their roles from the first film as Odin and Sif respectfully. On Earth, Kat Dennings returns as Jane’s assistant Darcy, along with the mentally unstable Dr. Selvig played by Stellan Skarsgard.

     If the “Thor: The Dark World” suffers in one area, it’s the fact it borrows substantially in it’s production design from a number of classic films which I always find unnecessary.  Granted it’s difficult not to have some similarities, but there’s no doubt I thought I was seeing the Trade Federation attack on Naboo from “Star Wars: Episode 1” all over again when Malekith attacks Asgard.  Furthermore, there’s a scene on a lakeside patio where Thor is courting Jane on Asgard that I could’ve sworn was the exact same set George Lucas used for a similar scene where Anakin is courting Padme.  The irony here, of course, is that in both instances, Natalie Portman is playing the female role.  In addition, the Dark Elves’ masks have a striking resemblance to the Michael Myers mask from the “Halloween” films and the entire plot and visuals borrow plenty from both “Stargate” and “Star Wars”, as well as any typical Viking movie.

     Originality aside, “Thor: The Dark World” works well as a film and is well integrated with it’s Marvel Universe counterparts.  I think having hero specific films like this are important so as not to ever downgrade the importance of any of the Avengers. Ironman may be the unquestioned leader, but some threats require a team effort, which leads me to a final thought. With each film, the plot will almost always include a major threat to Earth and in this film, the universe as well.  As was the case with “Ironman 3” earlier this year, this begs the question: What does it take for S.H.I.E.L.D. to warrant an activation of the full Avengers cadre?  It sure looked like Thor could’ve used a hand.