The thing to have in mind whenever a Marvel film comes out is what a gamble it all was. First there was setting up five films set in the same universe. One of them diverged from the “real world” and was set in a world of aliens, and magic, and gods. Then there was the film joining all of them together, something that had never been done before.
But The Avengers validated their risk, and choices, and so Marvel started experimenting. Reactions to Iron Man 3 were positive but mixed, especially because of the villain reveal (full disclosure: I liked it). And Thor 2, at times, is straight-up a sci-fi film. No need to hide it anymore.
Thor: The Dark World picks up right after the first film and The Avengers ended. The Nine Realms are in chaos after the destruction of the Bifrost, Jane Foster and Darcy are on Earth, and Loki’s in prison due to his actions on Midgard.
The film gets going quickly, though, and we soon move to other pressing issues. Malekith, a Dark Elf from the beginning of time, has awakened and is searching the Aether, a force with the power to plunge the universe into darkness.
Marvel, however, has a thing with villains. Malekith could be interesting, and the opening scene portrays a ruthless leader seldom seen later in the film. Nevermind the McGuffin of the Aether; this villain gives no reason for him to want it. It’s a waste of two fine actors (Christopher Eccleston, previously known as The Doctor, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, previously known as Mr. Eko) covered in layers of makeup, playing standard villain and strong henchman.
It’s a shame, because in interviews they tell of having explored the bond between the two characters, and their motivations, and so on. I’m wondering if those scenes were cut, because the film spends little time with them, and the time it does it’s only to move the plot forward, not reveal character.
But if you can get over the antagonist, you’ll have a very enjoyable film, very funny at times, and that deals accordingly with the actions of the characters in previous films. Loki is not only in jail, but confronted by several characters for murdering thousands on Earth. Thor coming back to Earth in Avengers and not contacting Jane is dealt with. And we get glimpses of how the world is dealing with their new circumstances.
Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have played their characters three times now, and it shows. The Warriors Three and Lady Sif have good scenes, but there’s no time to delve more into their characters. And Laura, the answer to “How much screentime does Zachary Levi has?” is “Not enough”. But isn’t that always the case?
Also of note, at least for me, is how checked-out of the proceedings Sir Anthony Hopkins was. Maybe he had less to play with this film than the last one, but he barely registered on this one. He was there, he said the lines, but… I felt little conviction. Rene Russo, as Thor’s mother Frigga, fares a lot better.
The film treats its Earth-based characters better. Darcy is again a standout, though if you didn’t find her funny in the first film you will not find her funny now. Your loss. Jane Foster and Dr. Erik Selvig do fine, and seem to know the film isn’t about them.
The action in the film is pretty good, though the grittiness promised from Alan Taylor’s (Game of Thrones) directing is confined to the first battle in the film. But visually, the film is often gorgeous, whether in the desolate wastes of the Dark World, or in a very solemn ceremony in Asgard. That scene, played silently, finally portrays Asgard as something more than a place where, like, seven people live.
That said, the final battle is pretty clever, every major character gets a role in it, and you won’t expect some of the beats it has.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the place of Thor: The Dark World in the larger Marvel Universe. Though it definitely happens after Avengers, we don’t know if Iron Man 3 has happened yet or not. And while S.H.I.E.L.D is mentioned, it doesn’t appear, just like it didn’t in IM3. The reason why S.H.I.E.LD. is silent will apparently be explored in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but in the meantime, we’ll get something in the form of an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode on November 19.
There’s also two post-credits scenes, one having to do with this film, and one with a future, or future, ones. Although the general public will be pretty non-plussed, or worse, plain confused, fans will clap in delight once the characters refer to the McGuffin in its proper name. Marvel, it seems, is playing the long game. And I for one can’t wait to see it.