It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
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 directions back to Greenwich, and promptly boards the train. As the train lurches forward, a woman falls onto his broad 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" films have this same basic problem, but story was never more important than personality in those earlier films. "Thor: The Dark World"'s characters are often very charming, but they're only so much fun when they're stuck going through the motions.
"Thor: The Dark World" mostly concerns Malekith's "Transformers"-worthy schemes. 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. Now, after Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor's super-smart 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 half-brother Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) recent failed coup. 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 scenes where characters get to be both important and exciting, like when Kurse (Adewale "Mr. Eko" Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith's super-powered henchman, breaks into Asgard, and starts a prison riot.
But there are just as many scenes where inherently exciting 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.
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