THOR: THE DARK WORLD – Blu-ray review

My teenage son liked “Thor: The Dark World”better than the first film, and so did more than 140,000 “users” at the Internet Movie Database, who gave it a collective 7.5 out of 10, compared to a 7.0 for “Thor.”

But there’s a curious discrepancy between audience reaction and the Metacritics who awarded it just 5.4 out of 10. The same gap holds at Rotten Tomatoes, where audiences gave it an 82 percent rating and Tomatometer critics deemed it only a 65 percent borderline success.

Well, Thor has his hammer, and critics often have an axe to grind.

Some seem to think themselves guardians of the Marvel universe, and they get their tights in a bunch if a film deviates too much from the comic books. Others get their noses automatically out of joint the minute they even start to write about a “blockbuster.”  And after the first film strained to link up with the first “Avengers” film, there’s the charge that the filmmakers are trying too hard to make all the pieces fit.

But before I weigh in, can I just say that the older that comic book legend Stan Lee gets, the funnier his cameos?

As usual, I seem to fall somewhere between critics and audiences. I thought “Thor: The Dark World” was entertaining and both tensely and densely plotted. But I do believe 8.0 is a bit generous for a film that seems to owe a substantial debt for its production design, art direction, set decoration, costume design, and battle sequences and effects to the “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” films.

That’s my biggest qualm, really. There were times when I was looking at Natalie Portman, who plays Jane Foster in the “Thor” films, and doing a double take, wondering if I was looking at Padmé or Queen Amidala, the backgrounds and action looked so vaguely familiar. There was more “Lord of the Rings” battle action and violence in “Thor: The Dark World” than there was in the 2011 original, and the aerial encounters, creatures, and spaceships smacked of “Star Wars.”  But it was a good smack, at least.

So yes, I also thought the “The Dark World” was better than “Thor”—even though I had to struggle at times to keep the contrived mythic (and often mythically contrived) story straight in my head.

Let’s see if I get this:  Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the ruler of the mythic Norse world, is still on the throne. His adopted son Loki (Tom Hiddleston) didn’t die in the last film, and when he’s returned to Asgard the mischief-maker who wants to be king is put in prison for things he did in the 2011 film. On Earth, Jane has been looking for a portal to get back to Asgard and rejoin Thor, and she and an assistant stumble upon something called the Aether, which, shades of “Ghostbusters,” finds a host in her and infiltrates her blood.

Other than obvious health issues, the problem with that is that a Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the film’s chief villain who, of course, is hellbent on destroying all the realms, needs the Aether in order to make it happen so he can rule a new dark kingdom of his own making (“The Aether awakens us. The Convergence returns!”).

We get quite a few sword-and-blaster battle scenes to show that the Nine Realms had been in discord, and we’re told that a rare alignment of those Nine Realms will allow the worlds to cross and link through portals that access them all. And we get Thor (Chris Hemsworth) flexing his arm-and-hammer muscle as he tries to save his love interest, trust his half-brother, avoid pissing off his father, and somehow stop the Nine Realms from becoming toast.

That’s why superheroes get the big bucks . . . and generate more bucks at the box office.

There’s more action this time around, and less deliberate alignment of the Marvel universe. The result is a film that flows better and gives the characters a little more room to be themselves. Despite the frenetic movement and pacing we notice the performances more, and though minor characters and elves tend toward the wooden, the rest are surprisingly good. And Hemsworth watchers get one bare-torso scene.

“Thor: The Dark World” has a runtime of 112 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some suggestive content.

“Thor: The Dark World” is a richly detailed film, and the level of detail we get in HD is nearly breathtaking. Even during frenetic action the edges seem sharply defined, colors hold true, and there’s no ghosting or other compression issues to drag the images down. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is a good one, and fans ought to be happy with the way this release turned out.  “The Dark World” is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is even better. The English DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround really fills the room with sound, with the bass giving just enough rumble to announce its presence and sounds traveling logically (and quickly, I might add) across the field. Every clash of sword and gun blast, every guttural shout resonates to create a truly immersive viewing experience. What’s more, there’s no need to toggle up and down on the volume to hear the dialogue above the roar of battle. Everything seems perfectly mixed.

Additional audio options are French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

This single-disc Blu-ray features a full-length commentary from director Alan Taylor, with segments from cinematographer Kramer Morganthau, producer Kevin Feige, and actor Tom Hiddleston spliced in. Together, they cover most of the bases, but it’s a more down-to-business commentary rather than a fun convergence full of laughs and anecdotes.

There’s also a “Marvel One Shot: All Hail the King” that’s presented in 1080p and runs 14 minutes. “Iron Man 3” director Drew Pearce offers Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), aka “The Mandarin,” in a brief film with a twist ending.

The longest feature is a 32-minute two-part look at all facets of creating Thor and Loki, and it should be a welcome watch for people who were confused by elements of the plot from either movie. Other than that, there’s not much to marvel about—just eight minutes of deleted/extended scenes that will make you wonder why they were cut, a five-minute look at composer Brian Tyler’s scoring of the film, a four-minute gag reel, and a four-minute teaser for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Bottom line:
Superhero movies are more polarizing than anything Hollywood produces, and this film will probably draw as many haters as lovers. I’m neither, but I do think that “Thor: The Dark World” is a better film than “Thor.”