Bold moves, big hammer, pretty straw-colored Aryan hair that’s totally begging to be twisted into Bo Derek braids (just me?) — we all understand why Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, feebly introduced in 2011 before being spit-polished in The Avengers, is so popular. (Shoutout to Vinny D’Onofrio, though.) But is it Thor’s bro Loki, played for every surly beat by English actor Tom Hiddleston, that’s made him such a furrowed-brow phenomenon?
Draping the world-weary glowering of Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life in a cloak of snide superhero wisecracks and amoral double-dealing, Hiddleston’s God of Mischief has grown to be the most beloved villain in the Marvel universe — at least according to blogging site/bone-chilling youth-culture barometer Tumblr, where “Hiddlestoners” post elaborate fan art and share their sexually charged Loki thoughts in meme format. The actor has been a remarkably good sport about his popularity, razzing kids in character, tossing Comic-Con audiences into unfettered hysterics and doing stuff like this:
In Thor: The Dark World, Alan Taylor’s unexpectedly lithe followup to Kenneth Branagh's miserable original, Loki is worked for all he’s worth, fully recovered from being pulverized into Scandinavian sesame paste by The Hulk. But it’s the overall mood of the sequel, which suggests that marquee comic-book movies are finally ready to stop taking themselves so damn seriously, that’s the most encouraging.
Picking up after the events of The Avengers, The Dark World finds the God of Thunder welcomed back to his home realm of Asgard as a hero, but the piss and vinegar that's long made him so unpredictable seems to be missing. Resisting the urges of his one-eyed dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to settle down with ruthless killing machine/very nice girl Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Thor is very clearly hung up on another dame — namely mortal astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), with whom he shacked up during his last stint as a planet-saver.
After some near-inexplicable scientific phenomena involving the rare alignment of alternate universes ends up with Jane infected with a mystical energy known as “the Aether,” Thor is forced to run point on her protection, as Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), an unflinching baddie with a weird Michael Myers face, hunts her down to claim the power source as his own.
The biggest failure of Branagh’s Thor was its idiotic disregard for the very basic needs of its audience. We want to see him hammer-smashing everything in sight while laughing heartily, not cooing into NatPo’s ear and gently sketching space diagrams in a Moleskine notebook, dammit! This dearth of self-awareness has been remedied in The Dark World, where the action sequences are obese and overstated and the time spent shuttling between them is filled with dialogue that might actually sound at home in the panels of a golden-era comic book.
While they’re not exactly Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, Hemsworth and Portman inject a weird, appealing brand of screwball chemistry into their interactions, complete with glib non-sequiturs and well-timed slaps across the face. It’s custard-light stuff that pairs nicely with a junk-food plot centered around shifting gravitational fields, evil space elves, a hamming-it-up Kat Dennings and Idris Elba in a horned helmet.
As for Loki — Hiddlestoners of all fanaticism levels will approve of his every move in The Dark World, and it’s not a stretch to think he might earn his own starring vehicle in the future. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always deeply disturbing Tumblr fan porn to fall back on.