The following review does contain mild story spoilers for Thor: The Dark World, please read with caution. No major plot point are discussed.
Thor: The Dark World opens up with a back story of epic proportions. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the race of Dark Elves are engaging in battle with Asgard’s army as they fight over the freedom of all nine realms. Malekith has harnessed the power of the Aether, a weapon capable of bringing darkness to all nine realms. But Bor, Odin’s father, and his brave men are able to defeat Malekith and are thought to have destroyed both the Dark Elves evil leader and the Aether. Unbeknownst to all, neither are put to rest, as Malekith, his right hand man Algrim, and a handful of his men escape in a lone ship and enter into a long slumber, and the Aether is hidden away, safe for now, but not destroyed.
These opening minutes of Thor set the tone for a significant portion of the film, and it is a tone and style that instantly took me back to my first viewing of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. The effects are spot on, the visuals hit you with broad strokes of action that pull you in instantly, and the events that are set up instantly seem larger than life, right from the start. This ambitious intro quickly gives way to the much more mortal scene of Natalie Portman‘s Jane Foster as she attempt an awkward lunch with an obviously nervous gentleman. We’re introduced here to the first of many comedic moments in Thor: The Dark World. This is also the scene where Kat Dennings‘s Darcy makes her first appearance, also in comedic fashion. Denning’s provides a vast majority of the comedy in the film, and nine times out of ten the jokes hit their mark.
Jane and Darcy excuse themselves from the disaster that is Jane’s lunch date, they head off to a scene that is very reminiscent of 2011’s Thor, investigating anomalies and odd readings and the like. This leads Jane to an otherworldly place where unknown to her, she comes face to face with the Aether. I’ll stop with my synopsis there for fear of spoiling too much, but these event of course lead to Thor returning to Earth and better yet, lead to Jane being taken to Asgard. One of the best decisions made for Thor: The Dark World was to have the bulk of the movie take place in Asgard and other mythical realms. It gives the film more scope than any other Marvel has done to date, The Avengers included.
Along side this reintroduction of Jane and Darcy, we are also reintroduced to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), and the rest of Asgard’s army as they battle to bring peace to the nine realms. We see large-scale battles and Thor displays his knack for beating enemies quite skillfully with Mjölnir. It’s all meant to make you again realize how truly big this universe we’re in really is, and for me director Alan Taylor did his job perfectly in this regard. As these two very different worlds collide, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) come back into play, Thor and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) work out their father-son issues further, and the friendship between Thor and the Bifröst guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba) becomes better developed. And all of this is done with expert pacing, wonderfully delivered dialogue, and dazzling effects. The whole film feels like Marvel just waving a big sign, the kind that you’d hold up at a baseball game or a pro wrestling match, that simply says “Hey! Look what we’ve learned!”.
The bulk of the film thereafter focuses on two major plot points — the battle between Thor and Malekith and the relationship between Thor and Loki. I’ll again try to weave around spoilers but both things simply must be discussed. First let’s look at Thor and Malekith, or maybe just Malekith in particular. Malekith is an interesting villain in that he is less and enemy of Thor and more an enemy of the Asgardians as a whole, awaking thousands of years after our opening scene still filled with hate and resentment towards Asgard for its hand in foiling his plans and forcing him into hiding. And so the relationship between our main protagonist and his antagonist can at times not quite click the way you might like. There is a particular moment where it does become personal, and it is probably my favorite
portion of this movie. I won’t give the details but the act committed, but it subsequent scenes give Thor: The Dark World an emotional connection the audience and deliver a wonderfully somber tone to the film. It is something I have not yet experienced in a Marvel Studios’ film, but I can say that now that I’ve had a taste, I cannot wait for more. Thor and Loki are the other side of this coin. Forced to join forces and combat Malekith, the two’s already turbulent relationship is put to the test here. Some of these scenes really let Hemsworth and Hiddleston shine, but Hiddleston admittedly comes out on top. Loki is so damn good at being bad that watching it all unfold on-screen, wondering what is going to happen next, and if we can really trust the god of mischief, is truly a treat to behold.
You’ll notice that I haven’t spoken much about what you might think would be a third pivotal relationship in Thor: The Dark World — the one between Thor and Jane Foster. It’s sad to say that the reason for this is simply because there isn’t much to tell you about. The scenes between the two are serviceable, but that is about as far as the compliments reach. The interaction here always feels only skin deep, never really taking itself all that seriously and mostly just existing for the sake of existing. There is a lot going on throughout the film and in that shuffle the relationship between the god of thunder and the beautiful mortal just becomes lost. It didn’t really hurt the movie, as everything around it was so spectacular, but you do walk away wondering just why you should care about the love story that seemingly should be at the center of the film.
Thor: The Dark World is really a display of what the fine folks over at Marvel have learned from Iron Man all the up until now. The emotional beats are there like never before, the comedy is well-timed and rarely misses the mark, and the acting is as well done as it has ever been in a Marvel production. Sure there are some missteps with Thor and Jane Foster, and we could have had a more up front and personal motivation for the beef between Thor and Malekith, but when I reached the end of my time with Thor: The Dark World, I found myself completely satisfied. And best of all, satisfied by more than just the fact that my childhood heroes were coming to life on-screen.