2011’s Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh, introduced us to Chris Hemsworth as Marvel’s Mighty Avenger and Norse God of Thunder. It was a big screen crowd pleaser origin story with typical fish out of water elements played for comedic value. Much like Iron Man 2, I felt was burdened with a heavy handed underlying pep rally agenda for The Avengers with a looming presence from S.H.I.E.L.D and a pointless second unit insert cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. It was a solid introduction to the character for the movie going audience and moved him forward into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. But perhaps just as important, Thor also kicked the doors down with Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s charismatic portrayal of the Asgardian villain has exponentially taken on a life of its own and turned him into a huge fan favorite far beyond anyone’s expectations.
When we last saw Thor and Loki, the sparring step brothers were on their way back to Asgard to have the villain pay for his attempt to take over the Earth with an alien Chitauri army. Thor: The Dark World, firmly set during Marvel’s Phase Two arc (as in the post-Avengers timeline begun with Iron Man 3 and references the team-up film’s epic events as the Battle of New York), and all seems at peace within in the Nine Realms.
Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), now living in London, has not lost hope in reuniting with Thor, she is well aware of his part in saving the world along side the Avengers. While conducting astro physics tests, she unwittingly stumbles upon and becomes infected by an ancient liquid weapon known as the Aether. If that wasn’t bad enough, an evil force and enemy of Asgard who pre-dates the beginning of the universe, the dark elf known as Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is awakened when the Aether becomes active. The Dark Elf is hell bent on returning the universe back to the dark days it came from.
When it becomes known to Thor that Jane is in danger on Earth from both Malekith and the Aether which will destroy her from within, so he returns to her side and wisks her back to Asgard for safety. In this magical dimension, Jane assumes the fish out of water duties that Thor had in the first film, and it’s a welcome progression to see how Thor has matured greatly from his first big screen adventure, becoming a protective guardian and calculated warrior.
The movie is heavily set in Asgard in addition to other CGI heavy un-Earthly worlds in the Nine Realms, and gives a healthy amount of collective screen time to Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Renee Russo), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi). Though it’s Tom Hiddleston’s sprung from prison Loki who effortlessly steals the show once again. From his three big screen appearances, Loki not only possesses the most under the hood as far as character development goes, but manages to become a villain to root for. Its obvious Hiddleston adores playing the character, and could very well become one of the irreplaceable crown jewels in the live action Marvel universe.
Thor: The Dark World is highlighted by the unholy alliance formed by the embattled brothers Thor and Loki, and boasts a breathtaking FX-laden final battle that spans the Nine Realms. Eccleston provides a strong on-screen ominous presence for Malekith, but the script doesn’t give the character much depth beyond being the straight-up evil being out to conquer all of reality no matter the cost. Marvel will have a tough time in topping Loki from here on in as far as the bad guys are concerned.
On a side note, Malekith and his army of Dark Elves utilize spaceships and advanced weaponry, which when put up against the hocus pocus powers of Asgard, seemingly have put the film makers of the inevitable big screen version of Masters of the Universe on notice (just as Pacific Rim dealt a deadly blow to the in-the works cinematic adaptations of Robotech and Voltron). He-Man’s world is based on a mash-up of science/technology and magical elements, and much of The Dark World plays directly in that sacred sandbox. So Marvel may have trumped the MOTU movie folks big time here. Moving on.
I caught the film in IMAX 3D, which for all intents and purposes, the presentation delivered. I think its safe to say we have reached a point where the post-3D conversion process for event films like this makes for an enjoyable experience when seen under optimal conditions. Its been while since I’ve been distracted by a muddy picture or excessive motion blur. OK, actually R.I.P.D. was pretty bad both as a film and in its shoddy 3D conversion, but I would’t ever weigh the expectations and resources of that film against a Disney/Marvel production. The Dark World‘s 3D isn’t out to wow you with Thor constantly throwing Mjolnir out at you, but it adds a sufficient extra layer. Though there is satisfying Mjolnir action galore throughout the film.
The sequel is also unexpectedly funnier than its predecessor. Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis is once again the flat out winner for one-liners, but the third act manages to delivers some out of left field laughs that lighten the tone even when the peril seems to be at peak moments. Though its not to be confused with the sad and bufoonish treatment of Stellan Skarsgard’s Dr. Erik Selvig throughout most of the film.
Overall, the sequel is a bit all over the place, but nonetheless stands proud as an action packed solid edition to Marvel’s movie slate. Where Iron Man 3 was able to focus on the power-less Tony Stark in a stripped down storyline, a mighty and mythical hero like Thor by nature isn’t a character that immediately lends himself to the “less is more” equation. This solo outing has the burden of needing to take things further while holding court alongside the shock and awe spectacle of the Avengers films, which it manages to pull off. It also succeeds in developing the immature Thor we first met in 2011 to the next level in the Marvel playing field, and tees him up for the next epic adventure with the Avengers in 2015’s Age of Ultron.
Thor: The Dark World is now playing on 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D screens.
REVIEW RATING: ★★★★★
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
Screenwriters: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Studio: Disney Studios
Running Time: 111 minutes