There's elves in this here superhero movie. Real-life honest-to-sci-fi elves. From the distant past, etc., led by badass Malekith who's only been slumbering and whose name alone tells you how evil he is. And he's after the Aether, which used to be his and is like the One Ring in that it can be used to rule the universe and stuff and it was supposed to be destroyed way back when and it wasn't.
You can see where this is going.
And here Thor was just bringing peace back to the Nine Realms that Odin rules over, after Loki went and ruined everything. It's the last mopping-up battle as Thor: The Dark World opens, all immortal space Vikings versus monsters and trolls, all swords and quantum-magic hammers and energy weapons on distant planets. It's crazy. I love it but it's crazy. Marvel's Thor and his folk and Tolkien's hobbits and elves all spring from the same mythic sources, of course, I know that, and that's why they jumble up here in what feels like a geek gumbo, but it still makes my head spin in the most marvelous way. It's like heavy-metal Lord of the Rings. With wormholes.
It's kind of awesome.
"Convergence is coming," we're told. We can expect sort of a wormhole party, planets aligning and dimensions getting all mixed up. It only happens once every 5,000 years, and it's now. Which is how Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) mortal main squeeze, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) accidentally finds the Aether, kinda like how Bilbo accidentally found the One Ring, in London but not really in London. Because wormholes. So now Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, under a ton of evil-elf makeup) is after Jane and the Aether she doesn't realize (at first) that she has.
Well, sort of. It's too much to explain. It's too much to even sum up. Except that Malekith is definitely very bad, and wants to rule the universe or something, and the convergence is his chance to do so, and so he must be stopped.
Fortunately, Thor must ask for the help of his naughty brother Loki, so we're in for some good bad-guy vamping from Tom Hiddleston, who just when you can't believe he's suckered you into genuinely feeling sorry for Loki pulls the emo out from under you — Hiddleston is as much a trickster as Loki is. In a movie full of really great actors having a lot of fun chewing the scenery, the sort of movie in which you wouldn't imagine anyone could outsteal anyone else, Hiddleston achieves just that.
A lot of what's happening in The Dark World is a bit of a mystery, though only in a good way. There's way too many screenwriters (five credited) for this not to have become a godawful mess, yet the movie gives a jolly shrug and lets itself float along on its own sheer madness. It's often ingenious madness: The big finale is almost a sendup of action-movie last-reel ultimate showdowns, what with all the wormholes opening up at convergence ground zero, which happens to be at London's Greenwich.
When you can wallop a bad guy on the lawn and he ends up on another planet, the rules change. It's incredibly funny, which isn't usually something you can say about action-movie last-reel ultimate showdowns, which have tended lately, when superheroes are involved, to unspeakable civilian body counts and citywide damage. The destruction in London is nowhere near as bad as what New York got — and may not have actually killed any innocent bystanders — though "London" will now surely be a touchstone and insidery reference in the next Avengers universe flick the way that "New York" is here.
This needs to be said, too: The Dark World assumes that the viewer has been keeping up with the sprawling film-and-TV Avengers universe: references are dropped to S.H.I.E.L.D. and what happened in New York, for instance, without explanation ... and there's a sorta-cameo by one of Thor's fellow Avengers that is absolutely hilarious, but which will make no sense at all if this is your introduction to the ongoing story.
If you have been keeping up ... Well, The Dark World isn't exactly confusing, because all the interplanetary, transtemporal, multidimensional machinations are tidily explained and make perfect sense, as these sorts of science fantasies go. But it's best to just let the experience of it wash over you, the better to enjoy the wonderful ridiculousness of it.