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Thor: The Dark World (2013) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston. Dir. Alan Taylor

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Thor: The Dark World

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Marvel Studios has embarked on a fairly ambitious path with the release of their franchise films every year- the attempt seems to be to develop a viable comic book universe on screen, which is admirable in its own way, yet so far it's starting to produce the feeling of been there, done that, with some of these films so generically made and with such similar plots that it can begin to feel really repetitive. At least the James Bond films (another series that follows a formula) take 2-3 years off between entries, enough so that you can actually miss Bond when he makes his big return. But now we have at least two Marvel movies a year, and whether it's Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, or The Avengers, it can't help getting old (especially with other studios doing their own superhero movies- we're now bombarded from all sides with capes, tights and superpowers).

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Unfortunately, this latest Thor entry is one of the most mediocre and generic yet. There's no particular feel for the people on screen, no attempt at character interaction or development, and the lamest plot and most unmemorable villain in the Marvel canon to date. It's a big disappointment with nothing specific to recommend it, unless these films have simply become "must-sees" in order to keep up with each Avenger's latest mission, to prepare yourself for the next Avengers movie. But what a sorry excuse to put out a film bereft of any real creativity.

In Thor: The Dark World, Thor's back on Asgard, keeping order over the nine realms, while Loki sits in a jail cell for eternity as punishment for his crimes on Earth. Meanwhile a nearly inexplicable plot is formed by the Dark Elf Malekith, who wants to send the world into darkness using a weapon called the Aether. I don't know his motivation for this or how the "aether" does it, but Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston in a completely wasted performance, as he gets nothing interesting to say or do, and may as well have been played by an anonymous actor. The fight to stop the elf king is therefore nothing to get worked up about, as I neither knew nor cared about what was happening at any point on screen, and the various fight scenes on Asgard seem random and chaotic.

Asgard was a sore point with me in the first Thor as well, so I was mildly more interested in what was going on on Earth in that film, but sadly here the Earth scenes rival the Asgard ones in irrelevance. Natalie Portman is back as Thor's girlfriend Jane, but given nothing to do, and she and Chris Hemsworth possess less than zero chemistry together. Her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) is also back and again here to crack wise, but given nothing funny to say in any one of her endless wisecracks, and also saddled with a pointless subplot regarding her lovestruck assistant that fails to produce any laughs.

Hemsworth himself is extremely uninteresting as Thor this time out (and I actually really liked him in the first movie), and not given a chance to develop anything that might actually make him a character, such as a relationship to his sidekicks, any of the humor that came from the last film with his godly fish-out-of-water shtick on Earth (two genuine laughs come from that this time and signal the approach they should have taken), and he becomes just a mindless fighting machine. The one bright spot in all this is Tom Hiddleston's Loki, who they actually had to bring back for reshoots in order to insert more scenes of him into the film. Seeing as he's not in the movie nearly enough as it is, I shudder to think what the original cut was. Hiddleston brings a playful snarkiness to his dialogue and elevates the material as much as he can (which is difficult, as this weak script seems to have been written by committee), but he enters and exits the story much too quickly, and takes any interest in what's happening on screen with him.

So many ideas were going through my mind as I watched this movie, for rewrites and angles they could have taken to give it a dose of originality and sharper humor, character building, anything. As it is, the film is still a bit shorter at 110 minutes than the average two hour Marvel film, and that's with all the Loki stuff added in. Thor: The Dark World was a less than middling experience, which makes me think there's not a whole lot of interest in the Thor character behind the scenes, and that this was really just a placeholder entry in the series. Better luck to him next time, but I can't say I'm optimistic, given how little effort was extracted this time.

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