, Newburyport, MA


November 8, 2013

'Thor: The Dark World' a setback for Marvel Studios


Thor, both on the screen and on the page, has never been much for plausible physics, but “Thor: The Dark World” turns the series into a mishmash of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” and “Lord of the Rings” and “Flash Gordon.” Is this science fiction? Mythology? Pure nonsense? The only times we’re reminded we are dealing with supreme beings (not gods, as the movie makes clear) is whenever Odin (Anthony Hopkins, rocking that cool gold eye patch) makes a long-winded speech while standing before his throne or striking a heroic pose. He does this a lot throughout the movie. Even the great Hopkins comes off as apologetic in those scenes. Sorry, everyone. I’m doing the best I can with this material. But you should see how much it pays!

The first “Thor” movie, directed in 2011 by Kenneth Branagh, managed to tie the realm of Asgard and its godly beings with ordinary people: Thor’s romance with the scientist Jane (Natalie Portman), was hokey but believable, because the movie found the perfect balance between the mythological and reality. You bought them as the most mismatched couple in the history of movies. The new picture, the feature-film debut of Alan Taylor (who directed some of your favorite episodes of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos”), only comes to life when Taylor is allowed to do the absurdist humor he does best, like a scene in which Thor is forced to take the London subway. But the grandness of intergalactic war is beyond his reach: The film’s big action set pieces are generic and impersonal. You’ve seen this stuff before, and often. How many times must we be forced to watch a large city demolished by a giant spaceship?

Hemsworth continues to pull off the impossible, investing a larger-than-life character with humanity and warmth — Thor is an immensely likable and relatable hero, which wasn’t always true in the comics — but he’s stranded in a story that has next to zero use of his innate likability. Portman and her kooky scientist friends (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) come off as clowns — cheap comic reliefs to keep this oversized picture grounded in reality. But where in the first film they felt like real, quirky people, “Thor: The Dark World” turns them into buffoons. Whenever they’re on the screen, you feel like the filmmakers are treating you like a chump. Aren’t these hapless nerds cute? Aren’t they hilarious?

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