Of all the superhero movies released in the Marvel cinematic universe, 2011’s “Thor” was the biggest surprise. It was the fourth film in Marvel Studios’ highly profitable and generally entertaining world and it was very smart in its execution. It never took itself too seriously and that clever mixture of humor and superhero action proved to be a winning formula.
Combine all of that with a near $450 million box office take and you know a sequel is guaranteed. That sequel comes not during the traditional summer blockbuster season but nestled in November. It’s “Thor: The Dark World” and it continues the story of our Asgardian hero. It’s a busy time for Thor (Chris Hemsworth). He’s just led the final battle in a two year war which brought peace to the Nine Realms and he’s brought Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard to face justice for his actions in New York City (see “The Avengers” if you’re unfamiliar with Loki’s transgressions). All the Asgardian characters from the first film return including Odin (Anthony Hopkins) whose relationship with his son Thor certainly isn’t as heated as in the first film. Odin is still grumpy and at times arrogant. But his devotion to protecting his people is unquestionable.
Back on Earth Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has relocated to London where she has continued her scientific studies. She stumbles across a portal which exposes her to an ancient force called the Aether. This seemingly sentient liquid enters Jane’s body which grabs the attention of the observing Asgardians. Thor makes his return and takes Jane to Asgard in an attempt to free her of the Aether. But the Asgardians aren’t the only ones drawn to the Aether. An evil Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) seeks the Aether’s power in hopes of joining with it to take the world back to the dark days before creation – a time where the Dark Elves ruled.
There’s a lot of story there and for the most part the film does a good job of bringing it all together. We have the central conflict between the Asgardians and the Malekith-led Dark Elves. We see more of the complex family dynamic between Odin, Thor, Loki, and Frigga (Rene Russo). We get more of the complicated romance between Thor and Jane. For my money all of the film’s different storylines are told well even though there are a few small shortcomings. First, I found myself slightly bogged down during a couple of the films heavy bits of exposition. There are also things that you just have to accept in a movie like this. If you start questioning them too much you’ll ruin the movie for yourself. They are unavoidable holes that even the best Hollywood writers couldn’t fill.
But put that aside and you have a really fun movie. It doesn’t forget those elements that made the first film a success, mainly a sense of humor. In many ways the first film was a ‘fish out of water’ tale. We get a little of that again, this time with Jane in Asgard, and that offers some funny monents. We also have the return of Kat Dennings as Darcy, Jane’s assistant. I found her to be a bit on the nose in the first film. Her designation as comic relief was way too obvious. In the sequel I felt differently. I thought she was funnier and easily more entertaining this go around. There are several really good laughs in “Thor: The Dark World” many of which are nestled in the middle of some of the film’s bigger action sequences. But the humor doesn’t drown us. This is still a superhero action picture and the action is satisfying. There are loads of really cool special effects and some fun battles that stand out.
But a major reason it all works is the phenomenal cast. Of all the character franchises in Marvel’s movie universe, Thor may have my favorite cast of the lot. Hemsworth is just perfect as Thor. He looks and acts the part wonderfully. I’ve mentioned the big roles played by Hopkins and Portman. But it’s great performances in smaller roles that are just as effective. I love Idris Elba as Heimdall, Asgard’s cosmic watchman. I also really like Jaimie Alexander as Sif (I would have loved to have seen more of her in this film). It’s also great watching Rene Russo in a bigger role and Stellan Skarsgard having a lot of fun reprising his Dr. Erik Selvig role. But as always it’s Tom Hiddleston who steals the show for me. Hiddleston absolutely owns the Loki character and I’ll never get tired of watching him steal scene after scene.
It could be said that “Thor: The Dark World” doesn’t feature a top villain on par with other Marvel heavyweights and there are a few minor plot holes and oversights. But to me this is still a wildly entertaining sequel and another fine installment into Marvel’s cinematic world. At first I had some doubts as to whether Thor had the strength to carry his own franchise. I’m sold now. Thor offers a very different type of film from the other Marvel movies and that freshness works for me. But it’s still nicely tied into the greater cinematic universe. Just stay for the mid-credits and after-credits scenes if you need even more proof of that.