Thor: The Dark World succeeds at building on the Thor (and Avengers) foundation to offer a bigger and more exciting adventure for Marvel's God of Thunder.
InThor: The Dark World, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his Asgardian forces have kept busy attempting to bring order to the nine realms - after they were thrown into warring chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst (in Thor) and Loki's invasion of New York (in Avengers).
In her efforts to reunite with Thor, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) discovers an ancient (and extremely powerful) weapon, the Ather, which subsequently awakens one of Asgard's most dangerous foes, Malekith, along with his Dark Elf army. Informed of Jane's troubles by the Asgardian sentry Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor returns to Earth to find and protect his love - setting off a series of events that force the God of Thunder into a desperate partnership to save Jane and rid the realms of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) before the villain unleashes destruction upon the cosmos.
For Thor: The Dark World, Marvel Studios hired Game of Thrones alum Alan Taylor to help maintain Thor and Loki's post-Avengers momentum (replacing Thor director Kenneth Branagh) - and deliver a solid standalone "Phase Two" installment. For the most part Taylor succeeds, as Thor: The Dark World successfully builds upon characters and story lines from the first Thor , as well as Avengers, while providing entertaining (and humorous) moments and exciting action set pieces along the way. Certain aspects of the story are underdeveloped - and some filmgoers might (once again) have trouble suspending disbelief as to why S.H.I.E.L.D. and the other Avengers aren't around to lend a hand - but overall Thor: The Dark World accomplishes exactly what a sequel (especially one couched in a shared cinematic universe) should do - increase the excitement and dig deeper into fan-favorite characters.
Like several Marvel Studios offerings (and the recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series), the main storyline in the Thor sequel centers on a new piece of supernatural technology (much like the Tesseract before it) that reignites an ancient battle between heroes and villains. While the setup is extremely straightforward, the script is surprisingly adept at balancing (and developing) ongoing story arcs (like the dynamic between Thor and Loki - as well as the God of Thunder's future role in Asgard) and larger shared universe tie-ins (i.e. much-appreciated exposition and backstory, plus a few choice cameos).
Unfortunately, in the middle of the delicate balancing act, most of the new additions (especially antagonist Malekith and his Dark Elves) remain underdeveloped. The Dark Elves significantly up the ante from Thor's first solo adventure, resulting in a number of thrilling (and visually stunning) action beats; however, compared to the quasi-Shakespearean story of sibling rivalry, alienation, and betrayal that fueled Loki as Thor 1's antagonist, Malekith is little more than an "evil leader" trope. Despite the best efforts of Dr. Who star Christopher Eccleston, Malekith - as well as his right-hand monster, Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) - fall short of being round and captivating villains, instead relegated to spouting exposition and platitudes before turning into hyper-charged punching bags for Thor and Mjölnir.
Luckily, Loki picks up a lot of the slack, as Tom Hiddleston once again plays the fan-favorite trickster with a smart mix of humor, charm, menace, and moral ambiguity. Providing Loki with an adequate story arc and substantial screen time probably contributed to The Dark World's thinly-drawn Dark Elves, but most moviegoers will likely agree that Taylor made the right call, since Hiddleston's scenes are often the most interesting, entertaining (not to mention most emotional) in the film. The Thor-Loki-Odin power struggle and meditations on what it takes to be a good king were some of the best moments in Thor 1 - and The Dark World sustains (and even builds-upon) these ideas with fresh developments.
Anyone who didn't respond to the fish-out-of-water story from the original movie will find Hemsworth's Thor is significantly more commanding this round. While the character is still at the heart of some humorous moments, The Dark World's Thor is a hardened - as well as battle-worn - leader, focused on protecting the people he loves at any cost, and no longer concerned with personal glory. A more resolute Thor means that the Avenger is also more heroic - with some downright kick-butt action moments that showcase his powers (not just his strength) and his iconic hammer. As a result, the movie's climax is much more exhilarating (and downright inventive) than its predecessor.
Even though Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three aren't given quite as much to do this time, The Dark World nonetheless utilizes several returning supporting characters - most notably Jane Foster (Portman) and Heimdall (Elba), who are both much more active and instrumental in the sequel. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), and newcomer "intern to the intern," Ian Boothby (Jonathan Howard) once again handle comedy relief and exposition duty. Dennings nails her timing even in moments of tension, elevating the previously one-note Darcy character into one of The Dark World's most enjoyable inclusions.
As mentioned, the film doesn't escape all of the pitfalls of a shared universe film experience. The Dark World is overstuffed with key characters (at expense of its villains) and some moviegoers will still have trouble suspending disbelief that Thor and his rag-tag group of do-gooders are alone in stopping an enemy that seeks destroy all nine realms. That said, there are enough knowing nods to The Avengers and Battle of New York to prevent The Dark World from being an entirely isolated experience - as the sequel manages to bind the film to prior events, as well as tease what audiences will see in future installments (note: make sure you stay through both the mid-credits and post-credits scenes).
The film is also playing in 3D, but much like the first installment, springing for the added cost is entirely optional - not essential. Anyone expecting a lot of pop-out moments or exceptionally inventive depth-of-field shots will probably walk away underwhelmed. Nevertheless, several scenes do take advantage of three-dimensional visuals - and Asgard is more immersive in the premium format.
In the end, Thor: The Dark World succeeds at building on the Thor (and Avengers) foundation to offer a bigger and more exciting adventure for Marvel's God of Thunder. At times, the film juggles too many fan-favorite elements and a few are underserved (most notably Lady Sif, the Warriors Three, and the Dark Elves). Regardless, Taylor's Phase Two installment manages to walk a fine (and challenging) line between digging deeper into its main cast of characters and the continuing Marvel Universe storylines. Some moviegoers may be divided on certain plot beats and developments, but overall The Dark World manages to build momentum and enthusiasm for Thor's return in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which - given the stakes, logistical challenges, and Marvel's grand ambition for a shared universe - is a major accomplishment.
If you’re still on the fence about Thor: The Dark World, check out the trailer below:
Thor: The Dark World runs 112 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
Seen the movie and want to discuss it without SPOILING it for those who haven’t seen it? Head over to our Thor: The Dark World Spoilers Discussion.
Want to know how Thor 2 lays ground for future Marvel Films? Read our Thor: The Dark World End-credits Explanation article.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
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