Chock up another win for Marvel’s stellar Avengers machine. In their master plan to tell several individual stories that make up the essence of a larger world, Marvel (and parent company, Disney) took a huge risk that has done nothing but create a magnificent realm (or nine realms, if you will) of riches. Of course, if it wasn’t for Robert Downey, Jr and the fantastic cinema quality action adventure that was Iron Man, Phase One of the Avengers Initiative (great marketing strategy, I must say) would have collapsed under its own weight (and not that of The Incredible Hulk, which I consider better than Captain America, a good film in its own right). But Iron Man‘s success gave the rest of the rag-tag team a template to sore into super stardom, and Thor: The Dark World not only amplifies the mold, but holds up mightily against his powerhouse friends.
In the original Thor, Kenneth Branagh chose a Shakespearean vibe to breathe life into Thor’s home world of Asgard, presenting his vision as an epic masterpiece under the guise of fantastical science-fiction. In The Dark World, Alan Taylor (a veteran television director) remains faithful to that aesthetic in respect to the stunning visual candyland that Branagh created, but doesn’t try to hide the fantasy within it, choosing instead to turn his masterpiece into a pseudo-precursor to Disney’s newly acquired space adventure. Asgard, as well as the other nine realms that Thor’s father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), fights to protect, are treated with the hand of a giddy fanboy, and it shows in every character, set piece, costume and word so handily crafted by screenwriters Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
Whether or not The Dark World spends more time on Asgard than the original did, I’m not sure, but it certainly feels like it. And that’s a bonus in my book, as I liked the Asgard sequences in the original a lot more than the Earth-bound ones—a sentiment I share with The Dark World (except, of course, for the final battle, which does take place on Earth for convenient reasons). A lot of the shenanigans that occur on Earth (though in the scheme of things, no more important than those on Asgard) feel far more manufactured than they did in Thor, especially when it comes to Stellan Skarsgard’s, Erik Selvig, whose character has almost become a joke of its former self—although understandably so. After the effects of Loki’s mind control in The Avengers, Erik has pretty much gone off the deep-end in his mental stability, which would have been fine if it had been grounded in the same way his performances were before and didn’t come off so cartoonish in its delivery.
Skarsgard would have benefited by taking a cue from Tom Hiddleston, whose portrayal of Loki is once again spot-on. As in his the other films, his level of deceptive flair, comic timing and emotional gravitas adds a dimension and depth that rivals Chris Hemsworth’s brooding and fiercely savage sensibilities as Thor. There is no denying his essential presence.
Another returning bright spot is Kat Dennings as Darcy, the ever-exasperated and smartly-clueless intern of Natalie Portman’s Jane. She brings just enough charm and wit to an otherwise one-note character, and yet, over the course of two films, has yet to share screen time with Hiddleston. It makes me wonder if there’s a possible Loki-centric vehicle that forces him to team up with Darcy on some wild, chaotic adventure. Or would that be just too much scenery chewing for one film to handle? Perhaps he can rescue her from some evil alien overload and then learn they’re the only ones who can ultimately defeat him. But, I digress.
Plot-wise, there’s not much to complain about. Dark Elves from the universe before light, seek to bring back the darkness with an indestructible gaseous element known as the Aether that will wipe out the universe during the alignment of the nine realms. After Odin’s father defeated the Elf Lord Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the Aether was hidden and buried. When Jane accidentally finds it, the Aether takes her over until Malekith can track it down. It’s up to Thor to challenge his own vengeful spirit and protect her and his family from certain death no matter what he must do to make that happen. All the beats are there and the writers keep you informed about everything without being too expositional (though there is a scene that starts to go down the road of blatant exposition as Thor and Jane learn of the Aether, which is already been set up at the very beginning of the film for the audience).
Having been a director on such shows as Game of Thrones, Alan Taylor does a terrific job with the action sequences here, specifically the final battle, which has Thor and Malekith inadvertently hopscotching from world to world through wormholes. There are some wonderful comic moments interwoven throughout (including some brilliant moments involving Thor’s hammer) that don’t take away from the electric power of the action and the drama within it.
Between the action sequences (some of which really do make you feel as if you’re back in that galaxy far, far away), there is also the continued romance between Thor and Jane, the budding friendship between Darcy and her new intern, a chance for Rene Russo to finally get in on the action (Lethal Weapon style) and a fantastic cameo by another Avenger that I won’t spoil here, all delivered with a the precision of an artist that wants to give everything to everyone—and succeeds. And to whet your whistle for the future, there’s not one, but two end credit teases (one before the main scroll, the second after the final credits) that give glimpses into several possible set-ups for future Marvel properties (and I say this because one of them, I suspect, is what will bleed into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the next couple of weeks… but don’t worry, if it is, it doesn’t spoil anything if you haven’t actually seen the film).
The only sequences I would have liked to have seen more from were the generic prison break that occurs on Asgard and in Thor’s clandestine escape from Asgard to put into action a plan that Odin dismisses as foolish. The prison break I’ll excuse because there really isn’t much else you could have done that hasn’t already been done in this type of circumstance (though Loki does have some nice moments here as well), but there was so much more potential in the latter that it feels almost as if they passed over it because of time constraints.
All in all, the film is a well-paced, well-balanced piece of exciting adventure that will fulfill anyone’s need to sit back and enjoy the possibilities.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include The Best Man Holiday and The Book Thief. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.