It wasn’t too difficult for Marvel to get audiences to buy into an eccentric billionaire who designed a high-tech suit of armor to save the world. It was an uphill battle to get those same people to buy into a Norse god with a magical hammer that could summon lightning. Thor was the fourth picture from Marvel Studios and their first attempt to inject their new cinematic universe with sci-fi/fantasy elements. While not a rousing success like Iron Man, Thor was an entertaining romp and the character was a huge component to The Avengers, which shattered box office records. Riding high off the crest of The Avengers, Marvel kicked off Phase 2 of their cinematic universe in 2013 with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.
When last we left the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), he defeated his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) with help from his new allies on Earth. A year later, Thor is still trying to clean up Loki’s mess as the Nine Realms have descended into chaos. Meanwhile, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) continues her search for Thor and stumbles onto an ancient weapon known as the Aether. In turn, this awakens the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who vows to return the universe to its primordial state of darkness. When the Dark Elves lay waste to Asgard, Thor is forced to team with the ever-scheming Loki to save his lady love and all of creation.
In many ways, Dark World is an improvement on the first Thor. The world of Marvel’s Norse gods has been expanded far beyond the scope of that tiny town in New Mexico. Asgard itself looks more organic rather than the glorified video game level it was in the previous picture. Alan Taylor has replaced Kenneth Branagh as director thanks to the strength of his work on Game of Thrones. Although Taylor is forced to work within the confines of the Marvel movie making machine, he’s clearly able to handle the film’s fantastical elements, which mix Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The action is ramped up with the Dark Elves armed with ominous spacecrafts, laser rifles, and grenades that open miniature black holes. One sequence feels lifted right out of a heist movie as Thor and his allies attempt to escape Asgard. The climactic battle in London was the perfect antidote to the widespread destruction seen in Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness. Rather than the mind-numbing sight of skyscrapers tumbling to the ground, Dark World gets innovative with cracks in reality that unexpectedly teleport combatants between dimensions.
The Dark World also stands as one of the funniest Marvel movies to date. Of course, that depends on your tolerance for Darcy (Kat Dennings) the comic relief intern. She’s at the height of her Darcy-ness here. While the film has a tendency to go over-the-top with the antics of Darcy and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard), who has now become a kook prancing about without any pants, the best gags are understated. One involves Thor nonchalantly hanging his hammer on a coat rack and another sees the God of Thunder catching a ride on the London underground. Chris O’Dowd essentially reprises his role from Bridesmaids in a cameo as a blind date for Natalie Portman.
That’s not to say this sequel is without flaws. Marvel has crammed a lot into their 2-hour blockbuster. The first half of Dark World is overloaded with exposition as characters explain the origins of the Aether, the Dark Elves, and the Convergence. That doesn’t include a prologue that could have sprung from the mind of JRR Tolkien himself. With so much happening many of the supporting players don’t get their fair due. The Warriors Three all but disappear into the background with Hogun the Grim (Tadanobu Asano) actually being told to sit this one out. Idris Elba’s Heimdall also suffers this same fate though he does get a brilliant moment when he takes down an entire ship with only a pair of daggers. An intriguing love triangle between Thor, Jane Foster, and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is teased, but nothing ever comes of it.
Now that he’s gone through the hero’s journey, Thor isn’t as arrogant or boastful, but Chris Hemsworth still has the brashness and charisma (not to mention physicality) to keep the audience enthralled. However, he and the rest of the cast are completely outshined by Tom Hiddleston. Marvel has hired a parade of talented actors to portray their movie villains, but the bad guys themselves haven’t made a powerful impression with the exception of Hiddleston’s Loki. That’s never more apparent with the casting of Christopher Eccleston as Malekith. Eccleston is a fine actor, but he’s buried under layers of make-up playing an antagonist whose sole purpose is to get punched by Thor. Things get infinitely more interesting once Loki gets into the mix. While the sequel delves deeper into his complexities, it still barely scratches the surface. Every subtle gesture Hiddleston makes registers. He also gets in on the comic relief with some sharp one-liners and a hilarious sequence where Loki utilizes his illusions during a chat with his brother. Marvel should really consider the sons of Odin on a wacky road trip as the plot of Thor 3.
The now ubiquitous post-credit stinger will have fanboys drooling as it sets up Guardians of the Galaxy and the possibility of the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers 3. Of course, the uninitiated will find it baffling, if for no other reason than Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric performance as the Collector.
Thor: The Dark World might be the messiest Marvel movie since Iron Man 2. However, it still stands as a rousing adventure and another vital chapter in Marvel’s cinematic universe.