Thor: The Dark World (2013) knows all the notes but not the music. Actually, it’s more like it scribbled the notes from somebody else’s paper then discovered it didn’t know the music either. It’s fairly amazing how a movie in which a man destroys a rock monster with a hammer, flies a spaceship through a world of splendor and marvel, and battles a deadly and powerful electric fog can feel so unamazing and generic. I’ve seen this movie before. You’ve seen this movie before. Everybody has seen this movie before. There’s some comfort in familiar beats, but that’s when they are reimagined just a little. This movie, which should have imagination in abundance, has little and therefore failed to stir mine even less.
The movie stars, as the demigod Thor, Chris Hemsworth in front of green screens of explosions. Thor is charged with defending his alien home of Asgard against the dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), an ancient villain who has risen from frozen stasis to command a powerful force called the Aether, which he wants to use to destroy the universe. This Aether, the nature of which remains mysterious, has sealed itself inside Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s Earth girlfriend who he left at the end of the previous movie and reconnects with now because she’s housing the undoing of the world inside her. Battling Malektih seems too much for Thor and he enlists the help of his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a deceptive criminal who is serving a life sentence for the crimes he committed at the end of the previous movie (or was it for the crimes he committed at the end of The Avengers  movie?). Together, Thor, Loki and Jane go off to stand in front of green screens of explosions.
The best moments of Thor (2011), were the self-aware silly parts, when the fish-out-of-water Thor is perplexed and dumbfounded by Earth. These moments didn’t last long before the movie got back to the noise, but they were there, which is more than we can say for the sequel. It’s funny: Thor seemed awed by Earth, but Jane, when presented with the splendor of Asgard in this movie, takes it in nonchalant stride. Just another place visited in the life of a scientist, I guess. That’s indicative of the whole movie, in which simply remarkable things pass without much comment; nobody is amazed by anything because they are too busy rushing through the convolutions of the plot and, therefore, we fail to be amazed either. It’s a shame because the art direction and the costuming are detailed, interesting and top-notch, but the movie makes them second-class citizens to the characters and story, which are uniformly not detailed, interesting nor top-notch.
The mistake is in the choice of tone. This is a silly movie; it contains world’s aligning, rainbow bridges and ice elves, yet nobody seems like they’re having any fun. Even Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father Odin, who has spent much of this millennium infusing his performances with more and more camp, falls more or less in line with the grave seriousness of the proceedings. The actors perform with conviction but no one can convince a thoughtful audience this should be taken seriously, no matter how many steely gazes are given or how many times you pound the scenery.
As the movie goes along it gets better, even taking the time to slow down and set up a sequence (the final showdown in London, which, bucking the trend of these movies, does not drag on too long), infusing it with a little more intrigue than the ones that proceeded it. There’s even a joke in there when Thor, separated from his charge, has to take the Underground to get back to the fight. There’s nothing world-beating about this sequence, but it stands out as the best in the movie because of the little things it does to achieve real interest—therefore, one could say the movie ends on a high note. This is good, because, as the ending makes irrevocably clear, we’re in for another one of these movies, so let’s hope it carries over.