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Movie review: Marvel delivers a bigger, better 'Thor'

Posted: November 13, 2013 - 4:35pm  |  Updated: November 14, 2013 - 9:40am
This publicity photo released by Walt Disney Studios and Marvel shows Chris Hemsworth in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (AP Photo/Walt Disney Studios/Marvel, Jay Maidment)  AP
AP
This publicity photo released by Walt Disney Studios and Marvel shows Chris Hemsworth in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (AP Photo/Walt Disney Studios/Marvel, Jay Maidment)

“Thor: The Dark World”

Marvel Entertainment

1 hour, 52 minutes

 

I remember reading “Thor” comics as a kid, though he was always a second tier hero for me. My favorites were always “Spider-Man” and “The X-Men,” but there was something really cool about the idea of an ancient god, brought back to life in modern times, fighting alongside my favorite comic book heroes. The existence of Thor as a comic book hero is interesting, considering the whole concept of superheroes is basically our way of dragging the divine down from heaven to fight our battles for us. It’s hard to imagine Jesus or Buddha on the pages of a comic book, battling evildoers, but a tall, blond hunk who shoots lightning and wields a giant hammer? He’s made for it.

The first “Thor” film was successful, though most comic geeks contend it was a little ho hum for their tastes. I tend to disagree. I thought it was fun and made for a perfect lead-in to “The Avengers.” Whatever you thought of the film, however, most people agree the one thing it definitely did right was the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the aforementioned tall, blond hunk. He brought the character to life perfectly, and in the sequel, this week’s “Thor: The Dark World,” he really gets to let his Norse flag fly.

Set approximately two years after the events of the first film, “The Dark World” sees Loki, Thor’s villainous brother, imprisoned in the Asgardian dungeon, while our hero travels between the nine realms, quelling rebellions and restoring order. He is being groomed to take over for Odin, to rule in his stead, but first he’ll have to deal with his biggest challenge yet — the return of the Dark Elves, an ancient race from a time before light was introduced into the universe who want to steal the all-powerful “aether” and use it to return the cosmos to the prehistoric blackness.

Yes, it sounds a little silly, and it is, but the brilliance of these films, and others in the Marvel universe, is that they acknowledge that silliness, even embrace it. Goofy cosmological throughlines are the bread and butter of most continuing storyline comic books, and these Marvel films are doing a masterful job of slowly introducing the audience to this idea. What reads as sillly at first glance is really just the language of comics and all this vast mysterious universe stuff lends itself perfectly to cross-over stories with a slew of characters. “The Avengers” anyone?

Most of the major players from the first film have returned, most notably Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, who, along with the returning science team of Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgaard, has much more to do this time around. Everybody, in fact, has more to do, which may account for the generally better critical reception the film is getting. The action is bigger, the emotional beats are stronger, and the scope is broader.

A bigger story, on the other hand, brings a more convoluted plot. As the film rolled on, with its quantum phase shifting and inter-dimensional alignments, it didn’t take me long to get lost. After seeing the movie, I’m still a little unclear what exactly the aether is or how the good guys stopped it. (Spoiler alert! They stop it.) That’s not the worst thing in the world, however. The movie’s not really about the aether — it’s about Thor coming to terms with Loki and Jane coming to terms with Thor, and Odin coming to terms with both Loki and Thor, and opening up about how he really doesn’t like Jane. In all this, the movie works perfectly, and if its a little vague about what exactly Malekith the Dark Elf really plans to do with the aether, well, so be it.

Marvel Studios just keeps getting better — proving it can not only make engaging, powerful stories about lesser known heroes like “Iron Man” and “Thor,” but weave together an incredibly vast over arching story without the whole house of cards falling in. It’s funny to think of “Iron Man” as being not particularly well-known, but before the first film, he was mostly only known to comic book readers, and not even to all of them. The film rights to Marvel’s big money characters, “Spider-Man,” “The X-Men,” and “The Fantastic Four” are all currently owned by other studios, and the upstart production company had to take a gamble that, when compared with name recognition, compelling stories would win the day. “Thor” is certainly a good example of that.

Grade: A

“Thor: The Dark World” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and brief language.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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