Sometimes, a critic just has to step away from the serious Oscar contenders and go have fun. Which for me this week meant slipping off to see Thor: The Dark World, a movie in little danger of snagging Academy gold, but which, after a rocky start, ratchets up the fun factor big time.
What elevates The Dark World above dozens of other noisy, overproduced comic book movies with Doomsday scenarios? For one thing, it's based on Norse mythology (very loosely based, I'll admit), so it has a more interesting pedigree than your typical guys-in-Spandex superhero movie. (At least the costumes are way more cool, so maybe I should rethink those Oscar chances.)
For another, the script rises above mere jokiness to achieve a refreshing degree of humor and wit as it goes along. Chris Hemsworth's charismatic thunder god, Thor, delivers the eye candy, and Tom Hiddleston's utterly delicious performance as Thor's ne'er-do-well brother, the trickster god, Loki, seals the deal.
|Tom Hiddleston as Loki: release me and I'll save your movie|
Directed by Alan Taylor, The Dark World begins with Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Father of the Gods of Asgard, explaining how the legions of Asgard defeated the evil Dark Elves centuries ago when the Elves tried to unleash a destructive force call Aether.
|Thor and Odin: don't call them gods|
Now, the Aether has been reawakened in its cosmic hiding place, and surviving Dark Elf, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), and his minions, want to use it to destroy the inhabitants of the Nine Realms (a corner of galactic real estate that includes Asgard and Earth) and rule in place of the gods.
Or something. Who cares?
Hiddleston delivers sardonic lines with insinuating precision, while he and Hemsworth craft a credibly embattled yet compelling rapport that keeps us guessing as their prickly alliance to stop Malekith plays out.
It may be standard Marvel comics fare, plot-wise, and it's extra cheesy that they suddenly make the Asgardians not really gods. Sure, Thor flies through the stratosphere with his magic hammer, Loki shapeshifts at will (watch out for the funny sequence where he momentarily morphs in Captain America), they may live for 5000 years or so, but wait, they're really mortal.
Even worse, Asgard, the so-called fortress of the gods, (defended by stalwart Vikings with swords) is suddenly vulnerable to dogfighting stealth jets and automatic weapons. Snore.
Still, Asgard looks terrific, and in its best moments, The Dark World reminds us how cool Norse mythology can be. (Read more)
(Above: the formidable Rene Russo make her point as Frigga, Mother of the Gods. Natalie Portman as Thor's Earthling love interest? Not so much.)