By KIRBY MCCORD
Comic books are a visual art; thus the success of converting comic books to movies can be understood, even predicted—if the movie retains (or expands on) the visual identity of the comic book. “Batman” and “Spider-Man” are perfect examples of such successes. But “Thor” is a different, and more difficult transition to the big screen.
To begin with, the artwork offered by Jack Kirby in the original Marvel comic book was always a little crude, and it had a unique look that was difficult to reproduce.
Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 version of “Thor” attempted to capture that look, and met with some success, but remained mired in a somewhat static vision. The new 2013 “Thor: The Dark World,” directed by Alan Taylor (6 episodes of TV’s “Game of Thrones”) is a much more dynamic expression that retains most of Mr. Kirby’s distinctive look, but deftly adds more movement to bring it alive. Panoramic views are not mere long shots of Asgard’s Kirbyesque landscape, but zooming, soaring, shifting angles pulsating with action. The sci-fi element of the comic book definitely comes to life with strange weapons, spaceships, dimensional portals to different worlds, and a focus on technological differences between the worlds that would seem to be magical or supernatural to the more primitive race (in this case, humankind).
The plot line is not particularly original, but it is still able to interest the audience. It begins, like “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings,” as a narrator describes the Marvel universe as consisting of nine realms.
Once, about 5,000 years ago, those nine realms had cosmically aligned the dark elves, from the realm of Svartheim, attempted to conquer the other eight realms.
The residents of the realm of Asgard, led by Odin’s father, defeated the dark elves and seized their most powerful weapon, an amorphous substance granting immense power to one imbued with it, known as the Aether. In the present day, those nine realms are aligning again, which creates inter-dimensional portals.
Astro-physicist and girlfriend of Thor, Jane Foster discovers one such portal, and is infused with the Aether, which aches to be discovered so it can wreak havoc. Not knowing why Jane is not quite herself, Thor brings her to Asgard. Meanwhile, the dark elves, who have been nursing their wounds since their defeat, are drawn to the Aether. They attack, seeking vengeance and the Aether.
Chris Hemsworth (“Red Dawn”) reprises his role as Thor, but this Thor is radically different than in the first film: he is now kind, empathetic, and thinks on a grand, strategic level instead of the vain, temperamental Thor of the first movie. Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) plays Jane as less mature than in the first movie, an awkward girl trying desperately to establish a “normal” relationship with a man. Kat Denning (TV’s “2 Broke Girls”) is Jane’s intern Darcy, a saucy girl with a prying mind; Stellan Skarsgard (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) plays Jane’s mentor Eric as the stereotypical brilliant scientist with a screw loose. Anthony Hopkins (“Red 2”) reigns supremely but not wisely as Odin; Rene Russo (“Yours, Mine and Ours”) is Odin’s matronly wife Frigga; and Tom Hiddleston (“War Horse”) slinks mischievously about as Loki, adopted son of Odin.
The script is particularly weak. It has no particularly memorable dialogue. Not only is the entire plot basically borrowed from “The Lord of the Rings,” but other than Loki, there is really no character development. We see Thor already transformed, and the other characters are typecasts.
You either like them or hate them, but they are as immovable (and frankly, as dull) as rocks.
But it is the brilliantly realized visual effects that make “Thor: The Dark World” come to life. Expertly edited, the pace is perfect; and director of photography Kramer Morgenthau and art director Ray Chan have created dynamic worlds full of action and excitement.
1 star — Avoid this boring mess of a movie at all costs. Reading the dictionary is more entertaining.
2 stars — If you're in the right mood or if the subject matter appeals to you, you may like this film; or it is uneven, at times entertaining and believable and at other times sophomoric. If you've got nothing else to do, it may be worth the price of admission (at least a matinee).
3 stars — This is a generally good movie that most people will enjoy. If you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours, spend it here and you won't be disappointed.
4 star — Don't miss this film! I don't care if you have time or not, make the time, because this movie is terrific.