Thor: The Dark World is a film that seeks to be a rousing adventure, a satisfying stop gap between Avengers movies, an effort to greatly expand the world of its hero, and a story that is appealing to both general audiences and hardcore comic book fans. Does it meet all of these goals? Yes and no, both element by element and scene by scene.
If you’re not familiar with him by now, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an Asgardian god/alien who does battle with enemies of all shapes and sizes in an effort to protect the nine realms – each a separate yet interconnected world consisting of humans, Asgardians, giants, elves of various temperaments, and more.
In Thor: The Dark World, our all-powerful hero seeks to protect the universe from an ancient foe that has reawakened from a centuries-long slumber – Malekith the Dark Elf (Christopher Eccleston). The villain seeks to unleash an evil force known as the Aether to destroy the entire universe and return it to the darkness it came from. Caught in the middle is scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s love interest from the first film, and all sorts of returning characters. To stop this evil, Thor must turn to his traitorous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has been locked away forever due to his attack on New York in The Avengers.
While there are a few twists and turns throughout, that’s basically the entire plot of the film. I won’t spoil the movie, but given this information, you can probably piece together what happens. Hammers are thrown, backs are stabbed, and countless columns are broken in the fight against evil.
With so many elements to keep in the air, Thor chooses to be as straightforward as possible, rather than be unique. While Iron Man 3 was extremely divisive to fans because of the decisions made in the film, it took chances and had a strong voice. Thor: The Dark World seems to be the opposite: a fun time focused more on visual effects and action than an engaging narrative.
This is perhaps personified best in Eccleston’s Malekith. Who is he? An evil elf. What does he want? To destroy everything. Why? Because he’s evil. How? With a glowing red mist that is somehow all-powerful. When? As soon as he wakes up from his conveniently-timed super-nap! He has less dimensions than the paper comics are printed on. Plus, he’s surrounded by equally bad elves, all of whom wear the same mask except for one, Kurse, a hulking servant imbued with evil magic.
While the Dark Elves are shown to pose a serious threat to anyone who stands in their way, they’re really more of a plot device than actual characters. They’re obviously evil and are strong enough to give Thor and his fellow heroes trouble, but are nothing more than that.
As it is, the film is stuffed with characters from various realms, and often does not know what to do with them. In the end, it really boils down to Thor, Loki, and Jane, but even this trio is not given much time together, as the narrative quickly breaks them apart once again. The film also shifts gears several times, and not always smoothly. Much of the first half is focused on exposition, setup, and moving various pieces into place. The second half is where the action and adventure take over. Many of the characters in the first half are unceremoniously dropped, leaving The Warriors Three, Sif, Heimdall, and Odin behind. While each actor continues to admirably embody his or her character, they’re really given little to do. The returning human characters, including Kat Denning’s Darcy Lewis and Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig, are given more to do, providing consistent comic relief and side story.
Hiddleston continues to live up to fan expectations as Loki. He fills the scheming character with life and charisma, making him conflicted and wounded as well as dangerous. We can’t help but like him while still fearing what he might do next. While Hemsworth’s Thor is a worthy hero, he isn’t a very deep character in these films. It’s Loki who gives added layers and laughs. Unfortunately, his role is rather limited throughout. He’s also responsible for a standout Avengers cameo, whetting the appetites of audiences for further crossovers on screen.
Thor comics are filled to the brim with enormous action sequences that can be found in few other comics. So it’s only natural that the film has a similar focus. In particular, Thor’s world-hopping final battle against Malekith embraces the big and bombastic nature of the hero. The sequence alone is filled with laughs, visual gags, outstanding special effects, and non-stop action. They definitely saved the best for last, but the rest is often filled with stop and start plot movement.
Fans clamoring to see the Mighty Avenger throw his hammer across thousands of miles, blast through the stratosphere, and obliterate countless enemies with lightning will be thoroughly satisfied.
The film was obviously given a big boost in budget over the first entry and it really shows on screen. Special effects and CGI fill nearly every frame and battles are filled with explosions, flight, crumbling buildings, and more as they unfold across the universe. Asgard is now enormous and large swaths of the film take place on alien worlds and in space. Not every element is original though. The Dark Elves’ spaceship interiors make it feel like The Predator is going to show up at any second and flying space skiffs both look and sound like Star Wars.
The film tries to strike a balance between an alien and godlike feel that is far removed from the comic books. It’s not always successful, as these combinations seem sometimes forced, but they create a unique atmosphere that few movies would ever try.
Like all Marvel Studios films, Thor plants seeds for future films, both in the movie and after the credits. This time, the film follows the Avengers tradition with two pieces in the credits: one a setup for future films in the Marvel Universe that will have all but the most-informed completely befuddled about what just happened, the other buttoning up the film’s story while providing a little chuckle. Don’t expect jaws to drop like they did at the end of the first Iron Man or The Avengers.
While it may not be the strongest of the Marvel films, this is far from the last that we’ll see of Thor. Out of all comic book adaptations on screen, Marvel Studios movies are the most like comic books. Each entry serves to move forward the story of a hero, but they can be unbalanced in quality due to the people creating it. But that doesn’t mean the next one won’t be fantastic, it just depends on the minds behind it. With strong direction and a balance between action and character, all aspects may be far more deeply satisfying than Thor: The Dark World.