Review: 'Thor: The Dark World' Has Just Enough Strength for Marvel
by Jeremy Kirk
November 8, 2013
Despite being overshadowed by The Avengers, the first Thor is still considered a bit of a misstep in Marvel's universe. Lame humor, a lack of scope, and odd pacing kept the beautiful images and interesting characters at bay from our interests. It's as if the filmmakers behind Thor: The Dark World had a list of items they were determined to get right this time around, because the sequel is everything the first Thor was not and more. It's appropriately funny, has an incredible sense of scope, and a nice pace that goes a long way this time, especially when the imagery and characters are just as strong as before. In fact, they're even stronger.
Two years after the God of Thunder, played again by Chris Hemsworth and his effortless charm, first set foot on our planet, a new, ancient, alien evil is rising up. The Dark Elves, a race of creatures who once ruled the darkness that blanketed the world, are back and determined to plunge all of existence back into that very darkness. Who better to fight them back than the defender of Asgard and Earth alike? But Thor is facing a new challenge this time around, as the love of his life, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has found and now holds the weapon the Dark Elves plan to use. The very fabric of reality is about to get all screwy.
What director Alan Taylor seems to understand far better than the director of the first Thor, Kenneth Branagh, is that when it comes to ancient Gods fighting ancient, alien races, bigger is always better. Thor: The Dark World has a sense of scale that easily stamps out the rather unimpressive size of the first film. Asgard no longer looks and feels like a couple of buildings, a throne room, and a rainbow bridge, and Taylor's way of making the kingdom appear as if there are actual citizens this time around goes a long way when the inevitable action does break out.
It's not just Asgard, either. Thor: The Dark World takes us to the various worlds of the Nine Realms, strange worlds filled with strange creatures. The epic nature of world-jumping found this time around is undeniable, as if Taylor and the screenwriters involved wished to play around in Thor's world, while the first film seemed to only want to dip its toe in. This has a strong hand in the direction the entire Marvel franchise is going, as well, and Thor: The Dark World, more than any Marvel film before, clenches that sense of a much larger story for which we're headed.
This isn't the first film Marvel has given us since the buildup towards The Avengers, that first pinnacle that showed us just how these new batch of films were to be structured. However, Iron Man 3, as cool and fun as it is, is more interested in Iron Man than the larger picture. Thor: The Dark World doesn't just feel like build towards The Avengers 2, but that and a few surprises for a couple of Marvel's other properties do pop up. This film handles the blend of Thor's story and the overall world Marvel is creating splendidly. S.H.I.E.L.D. is mentioned but not seen. Even a few, nice cameos serve as both comic relief and a reminder of just how big this world is.
As grand as the fantasy action is and the strength to which the relationship between Thor and Jane builds, the family drama found within this film is another element that far outshines the same from the first film. Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, the mischievous ice giant raised by Odin, Thor's father, as his own, and this actor inhabiting this role is by far Thor: The Dark World's greatest attribute. Loki is a dense character, and Hiddleston nails everything about him once again. It doesn't hurt that Hiddleston and Hemsworth have such great charisma together nor that Loki and Thor find themselves actually teaming up this time around. It's enough to make you wish to see a prequel about the characters, or, at the very least, some home movies of when they were younger.
The rest of the supporting cast is suitable, particularly Portman who is faced with much more here than the sympathetic damsel in distress. She's the brains to Hemsworth's brawn, and their dynamic is much stronger here than it was before. Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves, is bombastic enough for a comic book villain, even behind all that makeup. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård round out the comedic relief here on Earth while Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, and Idris Elba find their own, individual ways to kick ass in Asgard.
While all the elements as well as the sum of those parts work their respective magic, Thor: The Dark World never holds a candle to The Avengers. Nor should it really. The post-Avengers universe Marvel is creating is simply another winding up for a perfect, Avengers pitch, and with Joss Whedon back on board for that, there's no telling how much of an awesome masterpiece it's going to be. These stepping stones towards that next goal are important though, and Thor: The Dark World both tells its own story and contributes to that lead-up with great success. In our future hindsight, it could end up being considered one of the best.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10
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