In Thor it was explained that in that on the God of Thunder's home world, Asgard, science and magic are one and the same thus nicely slotting the character into Marvel Studio's roster of heroes on film. Thor: The Dark World maintains a wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction but it struggles to find a cohesive balance between the expanding Marvel cinematic universe, evolving the titular hero, comic book fan service, heroic action, romance, new villains and old villains; it's an exhausting juggling act that grids Marvel's successful run on the big screen to a near halt.
Set after the events of Thor and The Avengers, an ancient race thought to be extinct called the Dark Elves return to harness a powerful element known as The Aether which will destroy all life in the universe. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must team up astrophysicist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and his brother/convict, Loki (Tom Hiddleson), to stop the Dark Elves' leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), from harnessing The Aether.
From the plot description alone you can feel a headache developing and screenwriters Christopher Yost, with rewrites from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, seem to be suffering a form of short term memory loss with elements of the plot blandly reiterated to the point of nausea. A detailed prologue, foreboding voiceovers and repetitive conversations about dark forces and primeval grudges ensure you not only understand what's going on, but you've been told enough why it's so important that you cease to care. Thor: The Dark World also suffers from a constant flux between the heroes and villains with Thor and his buddies making plans, 'meanwhile' elsewhere in the universe, the Dark Elves brood and plot revenge; it flips and flops killing the momentum.
Buried under the rubble of the plot are a few really interesting developments with Thor himself who is tasked with defending the universe and, despite a series of victories, it is clear his heart is still on Earth and belongs to Foster. Thor is experiencing a little mid superhero career crisis which is complicated more by his strained relationship with his brother, who he loves, despite Loki's status as the blackest of black sheep in the family. Thor and Loki are forced into an uneasy alliance where they can work out their brotherly issues but it's played for gags instead of proper pathos and Yost, Markus and McFeely, devalue any emotional investment in the relationship. These elements of Thor's character are glimpsed but never properly explored in the grand scheme of the film which is unfortunate.
Hemsworth is charming, physically imposing and completely committed to his status as a 'God' and he's great playing Thor in the small reflective moments as well as selling the action with the power of his gigantic biceps. Hiddleson is a worthy barb who revels in mischief and has a few good dramatic moments with Hemsworth, but the actor is burdened with lots of jokey material worthy of a robot sidekick. Portman reignites the sexual tension with Hemsworth and it burns throughout the film but her character, who is supposed to be an astrophysicist, takes a massive slide in the intellect department bumbling through a role that's a cross between an accident prone romantic-comedy love interest and a scientific knob twister. Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant in short bursts playing scientist, Eric Selvig, who has suffered a mental breakdown after The Avengers and the residual effects are entertaining.
Despite the rickety elements of Thor: The Dark World, director Alan Taylor knows how to construct excellent action sequences with lasers, swords (sometimes laser swords) and enormous spaceships colliding in glorious explosions . Also, Taylor doesn't forget to include the hammer swinging awesomeness of Thor and his trusty Mjolnir. A sequence featuring an attack on Asgard is a joyous eruption of elements reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
Taylor and his special effects team deliver lots of tantalising visuals in the creation of distant realms across the galaxy and exploring each locale is fun. A lot of the film is not set on Earth and it's refreshing to see Taylor flex the muscles of the comic book universe which makes it feel epic and alive, revolving and impacting on other Marvel films.
Thor: The Dark World is hampered by having so many moving parts clashing against each other and often pulling in different directions, but it still manages to deliver an amusing space adventure.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies
Directed by: Alan Taylor Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay) - Don Payne and Robert Rodat (story) Based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård