Thor: The Dark World surpasses the original film in visual spectacle, and even (surprisingly) amps up the humor. By essentially giving the fans what they asked for (in this case, more time on Asgard and less time with Thor making pancakes), the sequel feels larger, despite less in the way of character development or actual story. Nevertheless, it’s a fun romp, with plenty to offer the comic book fan.
There isn’t much to the plot of Thor: The Dark World. A long-vanquished foe, Malekith The Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) returns to reclaim a magical mystery known as the Aether and take revenge on the denizens of Asgard. That’s basically it, really. The expected fireworks ensue, and the film manages to hit enough comic book beats to keep longtime fans of Thor and his supporting cast quite happy.
Chris Hemsworth displays more of the atypical comedic timing that made the original Thor film such a pleasant surprise, and he remains a likable enough presence as the God of Thunder (alright, they aren’t gods...something which Anthony Hopkins’ Odin makes quite clear at one point in case you had any doubts). As for Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Kat Dennings’ Darcy, well...if you loved ‘em in the first movie, you’re in luck. If you found there to be a lack of chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth or found Darcy’s hipster snark irritating, well...nothing in Thor: The Dark World is going to change your mind.
Anthony Hopkins is given considerably more screen time as Odin this time around, as is Renee Russo as Thor’s mother, Frigga. In fact, Russo’s Frigga (who was so barely present in the original that it’s easy to forget that she was there at all) gets a terrific fight scene in at one point, which, while brief, is a highlight of the movie. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is...well...what more is there to say about him? From the moment he shows up in chains (as a consequence of the events of The Avengers), he displays more screen presence and charm than any number of his peers. It’s easy to root for Loki, even though we all know what a terrible idea that is.
The shadow of artists like Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson is a long one, and Thor: The Dark World owes a tremendous debt to the work of both of these comic book titans. The time spent on Asgard is about as lush as anything we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film. While none of the special effects ever rise above the level of your standard modern blockbuster fare, there’s just so many of them, and the novelty of seeing all of these characters from Marvel’s Thor mythology fully-realized on screen doesn’t seem to wear thin.
Where the visuals are a little more memorable is anything dealing with outer space or cosmic settings and technology, which bodes quite well for at least the look of Guardians Of The Galaxy, not to mention Disney’s Star Wars films. However, the bright colors of Asgard, the mix of sword, sorcery, and science-fiction, and the sumptuous clothing and architecture of Asgard do help Thor: The Dark World stand out a little from the usual earthbound blockbuster fare. Look at Man of Steel’s washed-out look and how Avengers was limited to the greys and blues of New York City, and then compare it to the rainbow bridges and golden spires on display in the Nine Realms. The larger CGI action sequences suffer a bit in the bright light of Asgard from time to time, and the 3D is completely disposable. There isn’t a single visual on display that’s enhanced by the 3D presentation. Save the extra few bucks and munch on some popcorn, instead.
If Thor: The Dark World commits one absolutely unforgivable sin, it’s the waste of a good villain and an even better actor. Christopher Eccleston plays Malekith the Accursed (along with this heavy, Kurse, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and he’s barely present. His motives are unclear, he gets far too little screentime, and too many of Eccleston’s lines are electronically altered or delivered in some kind of Elven dialect. While Thor doesn’t exactly have the greatest rogues’ gallery to begin with (and woe to any actor who tries to outshine Tom Hiddleston in this franchise), Malekith is not only a great visual (both on the page and the screen), but a proper comic book villain with loads of potential, and a viewer can’t help but feel a little cheated by his absence here.
The good news is, despite the lack of a plot of any kind of consequence Thor: The Dark World never becomes an easter egg hunt for future Marvel films (that mid-credits sequence notwithstanding, but those don’t count), a criticism which was rightfully leveled at Iron Man 2. All in all, Thor: The Dark World is a fine, fun, rather mindless little romp. It’s not going to change any minds about superhero films, but for fans, this is probably the Thor movie you’ve always dreamed of.
Just as Marvel had a house style in the 60s at the absolute peak of the “House of Ideas” Marvel Studios seems to have developed a house style of their own: keep it light, keep the action coming, and know when to lighten the mood (without resorting to self-parody). Director Alan Taylor seemed savvy enough to stay out of the way and stick to the formula here, and should be happily counting his paychecks for years to come. If Thor: The Dark World is an example of Marvel on one of their off-days now (compared to the uneven Incredible Hulk and the rushed, inconsequential Iron Man 2), then we can safely expect to have a fine time inside the cinematic Marvel Universe every few months for years to come.