Thor: The Dark World | Classic Family Rivalry at Its Heart

Thor: The Dark World (©2013 Walt Disney Studios/Marvel)

The dark force of Aether has returned. The worlds are colliding. Male-kith wants to destroy Asgard. Thor brings peace to the nine realms, with no time to phone Jane. These 3D glasses are a nuisance. Is there a vaccine for Aether?

Don’t be alarmed, that’s just my brain on Thor: The Dark World in 3-D, the latest installation in the Marvel series. Maybe Dark World doesn’t measure up to the first Thor, but it certainly packs a punch, and here’s why. At the heart of the film lies the classic familial rivalry, the stuff that fills the literature of every civilization, from the Old Testament to the Greek and Roman myths to the plays of Shakespeare. It’s the story of the bad son whose raging jealousy spawns war and destruction. It’s the archetypal conflict that stirs the imagination with the nature of evil under your own roof.

Executing this timeless story are two screen giants: the mighty Thor played by Australia’s 6’3" Chris Hemsworth, and Britain’s 6’2" Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s avenging brother Loki. But it’s not just their physical stature that commands our attention. It’s their onscreen power that seizes our focus and makes us watch, feel, and listen, until they have communicated everything they wanted us to know. Due to the fine casting of Kenneth Branagh in the first Thor and the direction of Alan Taylor and James Gunn in The Dark World, Hemsworth and Hiddleston form a solid pair of sibling opposites whose mutual hostility feeds the saga of good versus evil among the Norse gods and their adversaries. And it keeps us coming back for more.

Like its predecessor, Dark World comes complete with colliding worlds. The evil Malekith wants to destroy the kingdom of Asgard ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), father of Thor and Loki. And there’s the ongoing issue of Odin’s successor to the throne. Meanwhile, back on earth, there are moments of welcome comedy that juxtapose the mighty Norse gods with those 20-something earthling scientists. And Natalie Portman still plays Thor’s mortal love interest, whom I find the least interesting protagonist, but maybe that’s just me. Thor: The Dark World is rich with themes of morality. It’s a bit noisy and explosive for my taste, and even a little cheesy. But I’ll keep returning to watch the big guys. They sure know how to carry a sequel across the threshold into the realm of films worth watching.   B+