By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
An informal poll of five 13-year-old boys in the theater lobby following a recent showing of director Alan Taylor’s “Thor: The Dark World” went like this:
Befuddled, Fuddy-Duddy Film Critic: Did you like the movie?
The Next Generation: (en masse, enthusiastically) Yes!
Befuddled: What would you give it out of 10?
The Next Generation: (unequivocally, again en masse) 9!
I briefly thought of asking if they understood it, but decided I didn’t need an “of course!” delivered with askance glare to confirm my interloper status. So I just adopted that silly, philosophically accepting smile as I walked to the car and contemplated the pageant of the generations.
Oh sure, I could grok the thing…if I saw it about three times and crammed the cheater notes before each viewing. However, never too much a fan of parallel worlds beyond the classics of the genre (i.e. –“The Time Machine” – 1960), and hesitant to embrace entertainment that implies a secret handshake, my proclivity is to mine the basic tale of good and evil that lies deep beneath all the high-tech fuss and fancy.
It’s all there, elaborately cached within the bright, shiny, cyberspace packaging, tweaked here to please modern sensibilities, including a trans-world love affair between the god of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and a pretty mortal (Natalie Portman). It’s just the sort of thing to strike an adolescent male, or female’s, fancy.
Let’s skip for the moment all the lore, minutiae, appurtenances and libretto necessary to an informed, uh, enjoyment of the fanciful, Marvel Comics rendition of Norse mythology. And never mind that no less than five Hollywood scribes had their hand in adapting it for the screen. Suffice it to note, the good folks of Asgard are in trouble.
Well, actually they’re gods, although Odin, played by a patch-eyed Anthony Hopkins, reminds bad adopted son Loki that they do die.
“Yeah,” retorts the snotty black sheep, superbly portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, “In about 5,000 years.”
Hmmm….can’t trust that kid. Our finer, humanitarian instincts say we should try. However, we fear the power-hungry prodigal, recently banned by his stepdad to life in the dungeon, is, like Fredo in “The Godfather II,” in cahoots with the family’s enemies.
That would mean Chris Eccleston’s Malekith, the despicable ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. Who wouldn’t have a chip on his shoulder if he couldn’t spell the name of the place he’s from?
In any case, if he ever gets hold of the Aether (the plot’s McGuffin), boy oh boy. That stuff could very well destroy the universe. Duh! You see, it also just so happens that the Asgardians have recently learned that the Convergence, an unusual configuration of the Nine Realms, is looming. But then who doesn’t know that?
But I dare not tell any more, lest I ruin it for you. Besides, my spell-check program has taken to rolling its eyes in disbelief of the words I’ve okayed to “add to dictionary.” Hey, I’ll need them for the unavoidable sequel.
But so much for the condescending rants of an outsider. Odds are, had I been raised on a diet of psychedelic cartoons and video games, and made to imbibe most of my liquid nourishment from juice boxes, Thor and his realms (yep, all 9 of ‘em), would probably serve to alleviate life’s pressures: such as playing sports I’m really not into (so I’ll be well-rounded) and getting into the college most preferred by my parents.
In more exigent circumstances, the colorful panoply of fantastic lands and infinite possibilities might prove an uplifting distraction from cancelled lunch programs, crime-littered streets and being raised by a grandmother who, at 64, is still cleaning houses.
It is romance and hope, albeit disguised in the most illogical glossary of cutting edge notions. Yes, worlds collide, dimensions mesh and time is turned upside down in a kaleidoscopic confusion of force and matter—the more gobbledygook-infused, the better.
But bottom line, this is a love story, the everlasting kind, determined to prevail no matter the cosmic interference or time continuum impossibility.
He, the title character played by Chris Hemsworth, is handsome….a younger, taller Brad Pitt, and for gosh sakes, a god. OK, she’s only human…but appealing…the girl-next-door but with an exotic look and smart like nobody’s business. Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist, Jane Foster, is probably the only one in the film, Asgardian, human or otherwise, who understands what’s going down.
Scratch the rambunctious veneer just a little more and the saga in which this love affair is placed retells a tale of power, corruption and ambition with all the usual lessons Machiavelli so astutely delineated. Now, there was some political thinker. Too bad he didn’t suggest a diplomatic way to get out of that promise to take your nephew to see “Thor: The Dark World.”
“Thor: The Dark World,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by Alan Taylor and stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston. Running time: 112 minutes