When the first “Thor” film was released it caught quite a few people off guard by simple virtue of the fact that it wasn’t terrible. At the time it was Marvel’s biggest gamble, attempting to take a clearly fantasy based character and make him believably live in the same universe as the science based Iron Man franchise. That film did the impossible and even managed to be an enjoyable movie on top of that, thanks to pitch perfect casting and some clever pacing. Now Thor has his second solo adventure in the form of “Thor: The Dark World” and it’s certainly bigger. But is it better?
“Thor: The Dark World” opens with the titular character (Chris Hemsworth ) still trying to clean up the mess created across the nine realms by the events of the first film. Peace if finally at hand once more and Thor’s treacherous foster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston ) is sentenced by their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to Asgard’s dungeon, forgotten by all by their mother Friga (Rene Russo.) Meanwhile back on Earth, physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) continues to follow strange phenomenon in hopes that it will lead her to Thor again. She encounters pockets of gravitational and temporal instability being caused by the alignment of the nine realms, which happens once every 5,000 years. However the convergence brings with it something even more sinister, the viciou s Dark Elves whose leader Maleki th (Christopher Eccleston ) plans to use the convergences as a means to extinguish all light from the universe and return it to the darkness from before creation.
First it should be said that this film is very quick to fix what is largely considered to be the weakness of the first film: the scale of the story. The first Thor film was fairly small in scale and also spent half of the running time in an isolated town in the middle of New Mexico, a fairly transparent way to keep the budget under control on what was an unproven property at the time. Now that Marvel knows Thor can draw in audiences there is much more money thrown up on the screen. This allows for more and bigger worlds and more and bigger action scenes. There’s still some time spent on Earth, but it doesn’t feel like it’s being done to temper the budget this time around.
The film also pushes the idea of blending fantasy and science fiction. This means that audiences are treated to battle scenes where some characters are firing lasers while others are wielding swords. And amazingly it never feels strange or out of place. The design of the technological aspects has been very carefully handled. Asgard never loses the Norse mythology aesthetic, even when guards are firing bolts of energy. The Dark Elves meanwhile have a wonderful organic feel to their technology which is both believable and delightfully different from anything audiences have seen in this universe up to this point.
As before the single strongest aspect of this film is the performances. Hemsworth continues to simply ooze charisma and charm as Thor. His arrogance from the first film has been dialed down slightly but that sense of superiority isn’t completely gone, and it gives him depth. Portman maintains her strong chemistry with Hemsworth , and the romance just feels more believable this time if only for the fact that audiences have had the time to buy into it. Portman also has some fantastic support from returning actors Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard , both providing spot on comic moments. Eccelston is mainly there to look menacing as Malekith , but he does it with just enough gravitas and presence that he feels like a genuine threat and not a fill in the blank villain. The true highlight of the film though is Hiddleston returning as Loki. While this may be Hemsworth’s film (and he carries it well) everything just comes more alive whenever Hiddleston is on the screen. He brings an infectious energy that just ups everybody’s game and audiences will miss his presence when he’s not there.
In an odd way, “Thor: The Dark World” fixing the issues of an earthbound action light story may have actually done more damage than good. In opting for a huge scale film with so much action, Thor himself doesn’t feel as central. Yes he’s still the hero, but the first film truly revolved around him. This time it revolves around the threat of universal destruction. Thor may be the one to prevent that, but since he himself isn’t the central focus as he was it doesn’t feel as much like his film as it did the first time. There’s also arguably a little too much action. Any given action scene is well staged and exciting, but they come so frequently that audiences may find themselves yearning for the reprieve of a fun dialogue scene. As good as the action is the most memorable moments are smaller and between fewer characters, and often very funny. It was a good thing that the humor of the first film isn’t lost in all the mayhem, although the timing isn’t always perfect. During the climactic battle there is a joke about the London Underground that is literally one joke too many and it takes the wind out of the climax somewhat (which is a shame because taken by itself it’s a fantastic joke.)
“Thor: The Dark World” is a worthy successor to the original and a treat for any Thor fan, however it does feel like a slight step down from the original film. Because there wasn’t the budget for all this action the first time the script had to be more clever with its non-action moments, and those actually became the highlights. Those non-action moments are still the highlights, only now the decision has been made to enhance the action at the cost of those more effective moments. Thankfully though they aren’t gone completely and this is still a wonderful time at the theater, and a great continuation of Marvel’s ever growing cinematic universe.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5