Yes, Thor is back. Chris Hemsworth, looking no worse for the wear after snogging and racing in “Rush,” is throwing his hammer around in every direction again. Tom Hiddleston is brother Loki, a little low key at the beginning of “Thor: The Dark World” but eventually exercising his right to be the villainous bad boy brother to Thor and son of scene chewing Anthony Hopkins. Rene Russo (still on her extended leave from movies) has an extended cameo as the boys’ mom. Natalie Portman returns as brainy Jane of the real world, kinda Thor’s girlfriend.
And there they are. What makes Marvel movies work is that they’re character driven and witty. “Thor,” even at its silliest, is 100 times more fun than “Man of Steel.” It has a simple plot, spelled out. It has well defined characters with clear back stories and motivations. And it’s been shaped into a story with a beginning, middle, end, and a big tease of the next installment. What else do you want?
While 3D boulders and monsters are blowing up and buildings are falling down, you get just enough jokey inside stuff to make you keep watching. Another Marvel super hero turns up unexpectedly, and it’s perfect. The teaser for the sequel is a mysterious meeting with another Marvel character. What’s going on? There are cross overs, and references to other Marvel comics.
Then there’s the whole business of Thor and family slipping into the contemporary world in which Jane and her friends live. There’s a centerpiece action sequence that bounces in and out of real and fantasy worlds. Some of the London scenes look they were filmed in the Oxo Tower restaurant on the South Bank. If you’ve been there you can almost imagine super heroes flying around and fighting among themselves.
Hemsworth is a solid hero. He’s no Laurence Olivier, but that’s what Hiddleston is there for. What Hemsworth lacks in emotive quality, he makes up for as a tentpole. Hiddleston gets to have the most fun. He and Hopkins could verbally joust all day. Director Alan Taylor comes from TV and “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men.” But he’s got a sharp eye, his scenes pay off. He does a new “Terminator” movie next, and we’ll be hearing his name again soon in the Marvel world.
PS As usual, watch for the Stan Lee appearance. He’s put himself in the one place we will never ever find him.