Late in Thor The Dark World, Chris Hemsworth‘s title character crash-lands on a British Underground platform. He’s dazed but knows that he has to get back to fighting Malekith (ex-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), a malevolent dark elf. Thor asks for his way back to Greenwich, and quickly boards the train.
As the train goes forward, a woman falls onto his muscled chest. He smiles knowingly. This scene is one of several high points in Thor The Dark World, a blocky fantasy-adventure whose plot is never as exciting as its characters. All three Iron Man movies share this same basic problem, but story was never more crucial than personality in those earlier entries. Thor The Dark Worlds characters are often very charming, but they’re only so much fun when they’re stuck going through the motions.
Thor The Dark World mainly surrounds Malekith’s “Transformers”-worthy plans. Malekith was previously put in his place by Bor, Thor’s grandfather, when he tried to turn matter back into anti-matter using Aether, an ancient, all-powerful energy source. At last, after Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s super-intelligent human scientist not-quite-girlfriend, stumbles upon some Aether, Malekith returns. Leading an armada of black splinter-shaped spaceships, he sets out for Asgard, home of Thor and his fellow Norse Gods. But the Asgardians are still recovering from Thor’s twisted brother Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) recent havoc. Now, Thor and Loki must team up to save Jane, Earth, Asgard, and the other eight realms of existence from complete annihilation.
Malekith may be a major threat to life and the universe as we know it, but he’s just one of a handful of characters who are run through their paces in Thor The Dark World. This sequel is consistently unfocused in that sense: major characters get to flex their muscles for a scene or two, but only when they’re absolutely needed. There are a couple of moments where characters get to be both essential and exciting, for instance when Kurse (Adewale “Mr. Eko” Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith’s super-powered henchman, breaks into Asgard, and starts a prison break.
But there are just as many sequences where inherently enchanting characters, like Thor, kill time connecting plot points. Watching Thor make quick work of an inconsequential enemy in an opening scene should be fun. But the scene has no flair to it, and feels like a perfunctory introduction to the character. The first scene in the film where Hemsworth gets to be really charming comes later, when he’s squabbling with Hiddleston about operating a commandeered dark-elven space-ship. The squabbling itself isn’t that funny, but the scene’s pay-off is. Hemsworth’s eyes light up as he gets the ship to fly, instantly reminding you why you came in the first place.
Still, more occasionally than not, Thor The Dark World is more busy than intriguing. There are a couple sub-plots too many, like the one with constantly-naked super-scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). And too many characters that are introduced with a promising scene, like Rainbow Bridge guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba), are forgotten during the film’s climactic battle. The movie’s world also generally seems slapped together, especially the dark elves, who look like a mix between “Land of the Lost”‘s Sleestaks and “Doctor Who”‘s Cybermen. Visually, Thor The Dark World is a step back after Thor, which at least looked unique enough.
But in most other angles, Thor The Dark World make a step in the right direction. The scene where Thor enlists Loki’s help is a perfect example of the film’s slight but memorable improvements. The talk they have is inconsequential, but seeing a beaten-up Loki surrounded by over-turned furniture and a reddish-brown PG-13 blood-substitute on his prison cell’s walls makes the shot worthwhile. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have such good chemistry that it sometimes looks like Thor and Loki will kiss before Thor and Jane will. There’s just enough tension and excitement in Thor The Dark World to make the movie’s otherwise listless proceedings worth enjoying, but only just.