The more enthusiasm Marvel pours into making its cinematic brand the center of pop-culture, the more difficult it is to give a damn about any of it. This much is apparent emerging from Thor: The Dark World, the eighth installment in their Avengers-centered universe and the second revolving around egotistical, beautifully-sculpted Norse god Thor. By far the weakest film in a brand that shows no signs of slowing, The Dark World lives in the shadow of the multi-billion critical smash Avengers — yet unlike Iron Man 3 of earlier this year, it doesn’t use these constraints and expectations to test its characters’ boundaries.
Iron Man 3‘s cleverest decision was to make its lead a total nervous wreck in the wake of Avengers, and so inverting one of the key tropes to heroism in the movies — the idea that the handsome, good-looking lead can brush off psychological trauma whenever he pleases. The Dark World, then, feels like a total regression in its unswerving allegiance to giving Thor as much surface charm and little depth as possible. With such a shallow foil as our lead, then, Thor: The Dark World feels less like a film and more like the worst qualities of television and video-games, all in one package; allowing episodic structure to rob its events of consequence and allowing poor computer-effects work to give the endless action sequences a decidedly cartoonish sheen. The film cost $170 million and never feels above a third of that figure.
It doesn’t help that, even in a cinematic universe where handsome leads fight with large shields and inter dimensional portals open in the middle of New York, Thor: The Dark World genuinely stretches one’s credulity past a recoverable point. The premise involves some vaguely distant enemies of Thor’s galactic kingdom, Dark Elves, and their return after thousands of years to destroy Earth, the universe, and all the rest. (If this review reads like the product of intense apathy, I assure you that’s because it is.)
If there’s life and vitality to be found in Thor: The Dark World, it’s in the dual male leads, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s gleefully villainous Loki. You may recall Loki was the chief antagonist of last year’s Avengers, and adding him back into the fold, assisting the film’s lead, adds a dynamic of unease and paranoia to the proceedings. It’s the only dimensions to be found in these characters, however, as their development is reduced to terse one-liners and what role they play in the film’s endless, endless sequences of destruction.
Thor: The Dark World is a film of small consequence, no matter how hard it may attempt to persuade you otherwise. Its conflicts are petty, its explosions are huge, and its identity is one of a lingering, haunting sadness for the state of $170-million filmmaking.