Thor: Dark World (2013): Starring Chris Hemsworth

Opens November 8

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Naïve and old-fashioned, despite the 3D technology and special effects, “Thor: The Dark World” aims to appeal to young viewers seeking massive epic entertainment.

As such, the new “Thor” fulfills expectations, delivering the basic goods of a spectacle that’s essentially a throwback to the kind of B-level historical epics that Hollywood used to make in the 1950s, often starring the beefy Victor Mature (who later became a campy iconic figure).

Like other movies this season, “Thor: The Dark World” first bows in foreign markets, on October 30, before opening domestically a week later, on November 8.  I have no doubts that, as mediocre and impersonal as it is, this “Thor” would surpass the box-office grosses of the 2011 picture, helmed (of all people) by Kenneth Branah.

A product of the Disney and Marvel comic-book machine, the plot is extremely simple, based on one central idea: The evil Dark Elf announces his sinister plan to “unleash the Aether.”  Once again, we are thrown into a royal family saga, centering on the tensions, conflicts and intrigues that define the tangled interactions of the king, his queen, and two sons.

Realizing the limitations of the material on the one hand, and the target audience for this fare on the other, director Alan Taylor moves things quickly so that we don’t have much time to think about the silly plot and its preposterous twists and turns.

As an item of the new/old genre of  Hollywood’s action-adventure-fantasy, “Thor: The Dark World” is unabashedly retro, unpretentious, and derivative fare. Young viewers may get involved in the proceedings, while adults (their parents?) may enjoy it as a movie that’s campy in both intentional and unintentional ways; to be sure, some of the humor is tongue-in-cheek.

The setting for the action—Asgard—is a major contributing factor to a saga that alternates between indoor and outdoor scenes, past and present, historical and contemporary elements.  More than “Dark,” as the title of the film promises, this “Thor” is an actioner in which there are no narrative rules and no dramatic logic, or rather, all conventions are violated if they serve the plot’s advancement and the three or four impressive and noisy set-pieces of mass destruction.

A prologue depicts the battle between the noble forces of Asgard and the wicked race, the Dark Elves, so labeled for their affinity with darkness—literally.  Their initial strategies change, when they fail to abolish the Aether, an “ancient force of infinite destruction.”  The surviving Dark Elves, led by the villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), are sentenced to slumber, while the Aether is buried deep down.

Cut to centuries later, when we encounter the ambitious astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, always appealing, even in this role), soul-mate of the handsome tower of a ma, the hunky Thor (Chris Hemsworth). When her body turns into the Aether’s host, Jane becomes the target of Malekith, now newly revived.

Thor, the Superman with a Hammer, takes Jane to Asgard, where she meets his aging father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, pretending he is doing Shakespeare)).  Though Thor is the heir apparent, the coronation is delayed, when the Dark Elves’ scheme to activate the Aether, an act bearing disastrous effects for all Nine Realms, of which Earth is just one element.