Marvel Studios really have a hard task ahead of them — keeping the momentum going in the wake of Joss Whedon’s outstanding team-up flick, “The Avengers.” “Iron Man 3” was somewhat of a misstep, and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has yet to fulfill its potential, but as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” draws ever closer the Thor franchise is thankfully in fine form.
“Thor: The Dark World” is a top-notch sequel, with stunning visuals, great performances and awesome action. Building on the solid foundations of Kenneth Branagh’s original “Thor,” director Alan Taylor brings a tremendous amount of depth to the mythological world of Asgard while successfully following up “The Avengers.” Although definitely not a perfect film, “The Dark World” is definitely one of the better movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Thor: The Dark World” picks up a year after the events of “The Avengers,” with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fighting to stop conflict throughout the Nine Realms, and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in chains. But when an ancient threat returns, in the form of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his army of Dark Elves, Thor is reunited with astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and must form a reluctant alliance with the treacherous Loki to stop the universe from descending into darkness.
The plot, while nothing especially complex, is sufficient enough for what the movie is, and definitely explores some intriguing concepts. The script is solid, with tight pacing and a lot of really funny moments, but what “The Dark World” does extremely well is flesh out Asgard. A lot more time is spent there in this movie, and you learn more about what society is like there. It feels like a real place, more so than it ever did in the first “Thor” film. We also get to see more of the other realms, which is good.
This interesting and immersive universe is achieved through the use of excellent visuals. Alan Taylor, having worked on shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Mad Men,” does a brilliant job of making the fantastical world of Thor detailed and relatable.
This extends to the action sequences and set pieces, which are among the best Marvel has ever produced. There is one action scene midway through the movie that rivals the final battle in “The Avengers.” The scale of “The Dark World” is just huge; there are hints of both “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” but that unique Thor style is still there. The cinematography and music are pretty great, too.
However, the best thing about “The Dark World” is undoubtedly the acting. Pretty much everyone is superb in this movie, and they all have good chemistry with one another. Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor, and with this being the character’s third cinematic outing, he is more comfortable with the hammer in hand than ever. Portman does well as Jane Foster once again, although she isn’t given much to do throughout the movie, and Anthony Hopkins steals every scene as Odin. It’s amazing to see Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Frigga (Rene Russo) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) finally given the screen time that they deserve, too.
That being said, Tom Hiddleston’s rendition of Loki, the God of Mischief, is just brilliant — utterly villainous, charismatic and heartbreaking. “The Dark World” is almost as much Loki’s film as it is Thor’s, and he has a pretty big role to play, even if he’s not in it as much as some might have preferred. Plus, the ending — in which Loki is key — is one of the coolest twists Marvel has pulled, and it sets up some very exciting things for future movies.
There are some awesome hints at the wider Marvel universe in “The Dark World,” including a mid-credits scene (which sets the stage for “Guardians of the Galaxy”), post-credits scene and a cameo halfway through the film that is absolutely genius. To spoil it would be a crime.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Despite the fact that he’s a fantastic actor, Christopher Eccleston is unforgivably underused as the primary antagonist, Malekith. His character needed a lot more development, especially regarding his history and motivation. Malekith just isn’t as compelling a villain as Loki, and it’s a real shame given Eccleston’s talent. This is the only major flaw with “The Dark World.”
The story is, at times, a little thin. This isn’t especially uncommon for a big budget blockbuster, or even a Marvel movie, but more depth would have been appreciated. The tight pacing also results in “The Dark World” feeling just a tad rushed, especially in the closing scenes.
Some of the jokes also fall flat, and there are a few too many goofy moments that don’t really work. The only other issue worth mentioning is that one or two plot points rely too heavily on very convenient circumstances.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Released by Disney, “Thor: The Dark World” was directed by Alan Taylor from a screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. It was produced by Kevin Feige. It stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Jaimie Alexander, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi and Rene Russo.