Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gives his hammer a workout in 'Thor: The Dark World.' (Walt Disney Studios/Marvel)
Let’s Ragnarok and roll, baby!
OK, so “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t really about the destruction of the universe as foretold in Old Norse mythology (although it sure feels like it at times).
And, in truth, the Prince of Asgard’s second solo movie outing is so rife with sketchy plot points that it will utterly bewilder those not fully steeped in Marvel minutiae — and may have even some true believers scratching their heads.
Doesn’t matter; director Alan Taylor, a TV veteran whose résumé includes episodes of several landmark series (“The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Deadwood” and more) and a gaggle of five writers (!) know on which side their bread is buttered.
They’re playing to the fully vested fans of big-screen, live-action comic books. If you count yourself a proud member of that quirky, obsessive tribe, then this colorful, thunderous, eye-popping spectacle will hit you upside the head harder than Mjolnir itself. It’s outright psychedelic in spots — so visually rich that spending extra bucks to see it in 3-D is entirely unnecessary.
But just for the record ... a race known as the Dark Elves, led by the evil Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), is trying to bring eternal darkness to the Nine Realms (of which Asgard is one) by acquiring an ephemeral but devastating force known as the Aether.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his fellow Asgardians (among them Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Idris Elba and Ray Stevenson) are all that stand against Malekith and his minions. And, of course, Thor’s human love, scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and shady half-bro Loki (Tom Hiddleston) figure heavily in the mix.
That’s really all you need to know; in the grand Marvel tradition, it’s just one crazy thing after another, moving at a frenzied pace that barely leaves time to ponder the implausibilities.
However, there are a few puzzlers that may briefly stick to your overheated synapses. One that stuck for me: Is it really possible to control intergalactic wormholes using what look like refurbished Etch A Sketches?
Whatever … you’re paying for sensory overload here, and you get it, set amid a fantastically imagined production design that contrasts the golden, gleaming spires of Asgard with the twisted, barren world of the Dark Elves (Svartalfheim on your scorecard).
But no less important to the sense of goofy fun in Marvel’s comic book films is the campy, snarky humor that pops up at strategically timed moments.
Here, the choice visual bits include a brief cameo by Chris Evans’ Captain America (no lie); an even briefer cameo by Marvel’s own All-Father, Stan Lee (don’t blink); and Thor entering an apartment on Midgard (Earth to you and me) and gently hanging his hammer on a coat rack.
And you just can’t resist dialogue like this, between Jane and her scientist pal Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard):
“The very fabric of reality may be torn apart!”
“Better put on my pants.”
No one goes to these flicks expecting Oscar-worthy acting, but after feeling his way through the first Thor film, Hemsworth now fully inhabits the role, and he and Hiddleston are particularly effective in a late plot twist that forces Thor to trust the ever-mistrustful Loki.
It culminates in a WTF twist ending and subsequent coda that drop heavy hints of future films and reflect the brilliantly clever fashion in which Marvel continues to build a highly addictive, tightly interwoven, ever-expanding big-screen universe.
If that’s not enough, stick around after the closing credits for a final helping of eye candy.
Rated PG-13 for intense (but bloodless) battle and action sequences, plus some mildly suggestive content. Got a rant or rave about the movies? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.