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‘Thor: The Dark World’ needs more Loki, less romance

"Thor: The Dark World"

The Marvel universe seems to be swallowing up pop culture, or at least Hollywood culture. With the phenomenal success of big-budget movies like the “Iron Man series,” “Captain America,” “Thor,” and the ensemble work of “The Avengers,” Marvel superheroes are everywhere on the big screen. They even have a spin-off weekly network television series now called “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

And perhaps most remarkably, all these movies and shows are time-coordinated, so that whatever happened in the last Avengers film, for instance, is then referenced in the new Iron Man movie or this new Thor movie that opens today.

This time-sensitive approach weaves a nice tight web of interconnectedness between all these movies, it’s true, but it also underscores the sameness of all these ventures. Marvel fans no doubt appreciate the consistency, but the rest of us may tire just a bit of the “we-must-fight-off-the-forces-of-evil-in-one-final-cataclysmic-battle-in-order-to-save-the-universe-from-ultimate-destruction” scenario, a scenario bolstered by the same spectacular CGI effects we’ve been seeing, for what seems like, forever.

So how’s Thor 2, officially “Thor: The Dark World”? Well, it’s more of the same, both in good ways and in bad.

For those uninitiated in Thor mythology, Marvel-style, the original comic books posit a fantastical world of god-like creatures living on faraway planets that make up the nine realms of the universe.

Everyone seems to wear long, flowing robes or capes, accompanied with outlandish headgear. These gods traipse around, well, like gods, and speak in stentorian tones (as if they’re addressing Parliament), even when it’s an intimate one on one conversation between a father and son, a brother and brother, or a male god (Thor) and a female earthling (Jane Foster.)

“I gave you my word, I would return for you,” says Thor, played by hunky Chris Hemsworth, as he pursues his love match with the lady scientist Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman.

And that’s what passes for “pillow talk” between the pair.

It’s always been the weak link in the Thor movies: The romance is meant to be something of a motivator for the character of Thor but it’s so ineptly handled. There’s absolutely no chemistry between the two leads – that it comes off more as a desperate attempt to attract a female audience to this heavily male-oriented story than anything else.

(Natalie Portman may have an Oscar but she is so badly miscast in this, the Academy may want to ask for it back.)

Thor, both the movie and the character, seems much more comfortable when dealing with Thor’s evil brother Loki. Sibling rivalry, not romantic conquest, is really at the heart of Marvel’s Thor. That rivalry is what powers the franchise, and the franchise is fortunate to have not only a strong character in Loki but such a strong actor to play him (Tom Hiddleston.) He’s the ying to Thor’s yang. If Thor is forthright, impetuous, and favored, Loki is selfish, scheming, and bitter. When the two clash, sparks fly and so does much-needed humor.

There is a major villain in Thor 2, named Malekith, who aims to destroy all nine realms of the universe and return it to eternal darkness. But he’s practically an afterthought compared to the battle between brothers. How Malekith is dispatched does provide the inevitable climax of the movie – ridiculously, it involves dialing knobs on something that looks a lot like a modified Etch-A-Sketch. But his demise is a foregone conclusion and not the least bit interesting. In fact, a lot of the battles in Thor are a bore. It’s only when Thor and Loki tangle that things get the least bit interesting, and they don’t tangle often enough.

If this movie itself was an etch-a-sketch, I’d suggest shaking it up and starting over – putting Loki front and center.

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