Marvel Studios is trying its hand at a fall season hit with Thor: The Dark World, the sequel to its most fantastical character and franchise property (that is, until Guardians of the Galaxy arrives on the scene). The sequel is no small order, as the first Thor was not without its fair share of criticisms, despite the Thunder god being the studio’s second highest-grossing character in Phase I.

While at the Thor 2 London junket, we sat down with the cast to talk about the main points fans want to know going into this particular Marvel Phase 2 movie:

  • What’s the new story about? 
  • Who are these “Dark Elf” villains?
  • Is the action better than the first film?
  • Is the humor better than the first film?

Check out what stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Christopher Eccleston (New villain, Malekith), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster) and Kat Dennings (Darcy) had to say to us about all of the above.

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As we’ve told you in our previews of the film, The Dark World  finds Thor and his Asgardian brethren in the midst of skirmishes all over the nine realms (see video above), as evil seems to be rearing its head in the cosmos like never before. These new threats bring the Dark Elves – old enemies of Asgard – back from dormancy, looking for payback via a mysterious power source known only as “The Aether” – a weapon that has serious implications for future Marvel Movies.

Former Doctor Who and Heroes star Christopher Eccleston is (obviously) no stranger to fanboy films, making him a great choice to play Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves. Eccleston described he and director Alan Taylor’s (Game of Thrones) wishes in creating engaging and interesting villains for the sequel:

Christopher Eccleston: What was important to the director was that these dark elves came with a sense of history that they regarded themselves as the supreme beings of the nine realms so we wanted them to be aristocratic and regal and complex. There is a history with Odin’s father, Thor’s grandfather; there was a battle and the dark elves were humiliated in that battle, and that was why the revenge burns so deeply within Malekith.

His people – whom he would regard as the supreme beings – were defeated, and he’s come back to right that wrong… He’s hell bent on revenge, he’s a monomaniac and that’s what’s terrifying about him. He will destroy everything in his path to get revenge. We all know that’s fruitless – revenge is fruitless – but that’s how he’s put together.

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A simple (but effective) backstory for a villain, sure – but as we previously reported, Alan Taylor was working with a constantly evolving script, which meant our central hero, Thor, had a much more winding narrative path to try and follow. Actor Chris Hemsworth talked about finding the character line to guide him through all the scripting madness:

Chris Hemsworth: For me it was about what does he want out of this story? And I thought well what is he trying to achieve? That was the basis of the questions if there wasn’t one I said well we gotta fix that or find one and it became about him understanding the responsibility and burden of his position now and him potentially being king, also the sacrifices that come with that. He wanted to save Asgard save Jane, protect the universe he didn’t want to have to choose one or the other and that was a pretty solid thing that kept him driving through the film.

While Hemsworth may have had clear line of sight – after all, what is Thor but a hero? – actor Tom Hiddleston was used to being the bad boy of the Marvel Movie Universe. However, The Dark World offers Loki a sort of different opportunity:

Tom Hiddleston: The reason for coming back was to try to find something else to do cause I’ve played the antagonist in two films; I was the antagonist in Thor and in the Avengers. I really wanted to find something else, something new, something fresh. A new kind of dynamic specifically with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, so we all came up with this idea of what it would be like if they were thrown together to fight a common enemy and that offered up different points of tension, comedy and drama, which I hope you could see in the film.

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While the Asgardian sons of Odin have their new roles to play, actress Natalie Portman describes what Jane Foster – who has a much more pivotal role in the sequel – has been up to in the two-year span that separates Thor 1 from Thor 2:

Natalie Portman: I wanted to make sure that it seems like there was a lot of progression in her life since we last saw her, so that it didn’t end where the movie ended. In the years in between she’s continued with her science, she’s relocated to London, she’s been angry at Thor but trying to move on with her life, that’s kind of what’s been happening between these two films. Then once I go to Asgard it’s obviously important to have this sort of feeling of being in awe of what she sees, that’s she’s a fish out of water a little bit. Also that she’s going through the normal steps of traveling to Europe and your boyfriend’s hometown for the first time, so that it brings it down to earth a little bit.

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Who didn’t love Thor smashing coffee cups or out-drinking Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) in the first film? But even with some great fish-out-of-water humor, Thor also had some eye-rolling pop-culture references (Facebook) and other gags that didn’t go over quite as well. Always looking to improve, Marvel Studios has injected a more measured and lighthearted undercurrent into their Dark World, which director Alan Taylor called ‘crucial’ to the balance of the film:

Alan Taylor: I think I went into it, and I thought my first task was to darken the world and deepen it and dirty it up a little bit. Um, I sort of felt like that was my mandate going in. And then as we started the process, I realized, “Oops. Um, if we’re gonna darken it, if we’re gonna deepen it…we’d better make darn sure that it’s balanced on the other side.” Because the, you know, the key to the Marvel universe and the Marvel language that I was being assaulted by while I was making this movie -‘cause “Avengers” came out while we were starting it, and “Iron Man 3” came out while we were finishing it – was you are screwed if you don’t also keep it funny and light on its feet at the same time. So it’s, it’s called “The Dark World,” and there’s certainly dark currents in it, um, but, yeah, the humor was critical.

A major lightning rod for criticisms of the first film was actress Kat Dennings’ character, Darcy, who was pretty much comic relief on two legs. We asked Dennings straight up whether the first or second movie had the better jokes:

I liked the jokes in the second film, but the first film will always have a place in my heart. It was a special experience. And it was great to see everybody again and get back into it. It was awesome…. I sort of assumed I wasn’t in it or I assumed I ‘popped up,’ but I was just amazed at the amount of Darcy in there, and it was cool to see them take her, like, flavor from the first ‘Thor’ and make into this whole great thing.

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Not to be outdone, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster also gets to crack wise this time around – some of the most outright comedy we’ve seen from Portman onscreen:

Natalie Portman: Thank you, well it’s really fun to get to do a movie like this that’s just pure entertainment. It’s so funny and has so much action and the humor is obviously [there] they wrote great material, there’s just a great rapport with all the actors. Especially [since] we all knew each other well already and so to have Kat [Dennings], Tom [Hiddleston], Chris [Hemsworth] and Stellan [Skarsgard] everyone is just naturally very funny.

But let’s be honest: fans aren’t signing up for another tour with Thor JUST for a laugh. They want to see the hammer-swinging God of Thunder wreck shop all over the nine realms. Well guess what? That’s the same thing that Chris Hemsworth wanted to see when making this sequel:

Chris Hemsworth: It was one of my first concerns at the beginning of the film. I said, ‘look I don’t want him to feel he’s just doing hand to hand combat he’s a God we should see him off the ground more and we should see the power of that weapon and his abilities.’ So that was something we really concentrated on upping the action and the stunts and his skillset, really showcasing what he’s capable of.

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To that end, one has to wonder if Hemsworth’s Thor is now more of a master Mjolnir wielder than he’s ever been:

Chris Hemsworth: (laughs) Yeah to some degree. I got a lot of help from the special effects department, making me look better. I had to hold that thing a lot so I became pretty apt with flinging it around and switching hands; [I became] ambidextrous with the hammer.

NEXT: Chris Hemsworth Talks Thor 3 Story Idea

Thor: The Dark World will be in (US) theaters on November 8, 2013.

Be sure to Check out more of our coverage (see below), which touches on everything from Thor 3 to Avengers 3.