"Thor: The Dark World" is the latest entry in the combined Marvel Universe series continuing where we left off with "Thor" and "The Avengers." The film, enormously entertaining, is directed by Alan Taylor, best known for his work with "Game of Thrones," and it's clear that he was chosen for his ability to bring in a fantasy-adventure on a budget that tonally fits in within a series. As Taylor is the first pure television director to take on a Marvel film -Joss Whedon had years of show-running and "Serenity" under his belt when he made "The Avengers" - it is the first in the series to feel workmanlike.
Gone, for better or worse, are Kenneth Branagh's stylistic flourishes and directorial obsessions. Though his penchant for dutch angles and love of the New Mexico landscape irked some viewers, "Thor" was clearly and definitely the work of the Shakespearean director. "The Dark World" lacks the same directorial quirk.
Thankfully, what the film lacks in personal vision, it more than makes up for in sheer affability. The cast, led by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston seem more comfortable than ever in their roles, and each character is given a surprising amount of depth and growth throughout the film.
Hiddleston, much as he was in "Thor" and "The Avengers" is MVP here, absolutely killing every moment he's on screen. It is so rare in a studio blockbuster to have a central character whose motives remain hidden, and whose every action is a legitimate surprise. Loki and Thor share not only vicious barbs, but a wistful longing for their lost brotherly love. This time, in addition to attempted fratricide, Thor has to contend with his multitude of daddy issues ripped straight from the comic.
Whereas before Odin was portrayed as a benevolent and omniscient overlord, here he becomes more fallible, and he and Thor butt heads in new and interesting ways. Even Rene Russo, all-but-cut out of the first flick gets several chances to shine.
The Earthbound cast, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard all return and are given meatier roles to chew on - even if Skarsgard's character Selvig is downgraded to comic relief. By the end of the film, Kat Dennings' Darcy, a one-note comedic player in the first film, honestly has more depth than Thor does.
It's important that the character work and the action is as good as it is, because the villain and the main plot are so light as to be non-existent.
Malekith the dark elf, played by Christopher Ecclestein - more honestly played by Christopher Ecclestein's make-up - wants to grab red goop called the Aether to plunge the world into darkness because dark elves like the dark. That's the extent of his motivation.
He rarely has scenes with any characters other than Algrim, his second-in-command who crushes up a power rock and turns into a musclebound Bond-henchman named Kurse. Even the plot-points about the convergence of the nine realms feels cribbed from about 100 other movies that involve the aligning of the planets, this final point can be forgiven because it leads to the climactic fight which is honestly a hoot.
The convergence of the realms allows the filmmakers to introduce a unique element - teleportation - to what is normally the most obvious and plodding part of a superhero film, the obligatory action climax. Adding to the enjoyment is the fact that literally every character present gets their own role to play in the battle and their own individual moment to shine.
This relationship between cliché and freshness sums up the whole picture; "Thor: The Dark World" does just enough new to forgive it for cribbing from other sources, and the entire flick is filled with enough charm to make it all skate on by.