Thor- The Dark World: A Surprisingly Improved Return for Marvel’s Favorite God

I’ve had a lot of fun following the Marvel Comics movie universe as it’s gone through its paces. I found “Phase 1”, the lead-up to The Avengers, quite interesting to track, although the quality of each step varied. On the whole, I thought the Iron Man franchise was the strongest part of Phase 1, while the weakest entry was without a doubt Thor. But now Marvel is in “Phase 2”, the individual movie franchises in the wake of The Avengers, and a startling reversal has taken place. Iron Man 3, the first Phase 2 movie, was one of the worst comic book movies I’ve seen since the profound disappointment that was X-Men 3 while Thor: The Dark World proves a significant improvement on its predecessor.

Taking place after the fateful “Battle of New York” from The Avengers, the film follows Thor, God of Thunder and part-time superhero (Chris Hemsworth) as he delivers his bitter and increasingly deranged adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgardian justice for his crimes on Earth, as he had planned to do in The Avengers. With Loki imprisoned, Thor, apparently now far more mature and serious after two long weekends on Earth, takes charge of setting the realms that have been thrown into chaos by Loki’s actions back in order. While Odin (Antony Hopkins) is preparing to offer the throne to Thor, Thor is reluctant to take the responsibility of kingship and desires to return to Earth to fulfill his promise to find Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) again. Thor and Jane’s paths cross in a more unexpected way when the approaching alignment of the realms weakens the barrier of reality enough for Jane to be pulled into another dimension, inadvertently bonding herself to an ancient weapon known as the Aether. This act awakens the Dark Elves, ancient foes of Asgard whose king Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) attempted to use the Aether during the previous alignment to destroy the universe. Faced with an enemy he can’t defeat himself and growing disagreements with Odin about how to respond to the threat, Thor gambles everything on an uneasy alliance with Loki to stop the Dark Elves from reclaiming the Aether and stop the Aether from killing Jane.

The previous Thor did not have a particularly engaging plot, and often felt rushed due to its overly simple story of Thor learning to be worthy of his power instead of abusing it. The Dark World ups the ante significantly, as Thor has become a much worthier hero since The Avengers and is now fighting a much bigger threat than his own shortcomings and Loki’s manipulations. The characters have improved significantly as well; the Dark Elves aren’t nearly as compelling as villains as Loki can often be, but Christopher Eccleston does a good job performing the eerie, no-nonsense Malekith while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays his loyal subordinate Kurse as an antagonist both more threatening and more personal in Thor’s struggles than The Destroyer from the previous movie. While Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman both do quite well in their roles, the show is stolen entirely by Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The character’s ever-growing instability and blatant untrustworthiness are as sharp and distinctive as ever, but Loki is also able to show more of a sense of humor than the troubled villain of the first Thor and the psychotic would-be conqueror of The Avengers, nabbing some of the best lines in the movie and clearly having an enormous amount of fun most of the time he’s on-screen. This combined with a new level of pathos for the character in certain scenes leads to Loki remaining a very interesting villain, and Thor’s reluctant cooperation with him makes for the best part of the movie for me. The movie also manages to hold up the Marvel Movie’s usual standard of very enjoyable action; seeing Thor being able to fight with his full power the whole movie while the other Asgardians get to show their stuff and the Dark Elves kick off some fairly brutal attacks makes for some good fight scenes, a much-needed step back to high standards after Iron Man 3 fell down so hard in this department.

I did feel the movie had some flaws, as all movies do, however. Tone was not always consistent, and I felt that the placement of some scenes was poorly done, such as the sudden transition from a very somber viking funeral to a comedic scene immediately afterwards, and sometimes it seemed like there were out-of-place comedic elements in the climactic battle, while I felt The Avengers had handled funny moments in its fights much more organically. This never gets as bad as Iron Man 3, where a joke that wasn’t funny to begin with is forced until it dies even in the final battle, but it does stand out compared to the scenes where the levity feels more natural. The movie also doesn’t have a lot for Jane or any of her human friends to do; Jane’s assistants are mostly just there for minor punchlines while Jane is regulated to the unfortunate role of “MacGuffin Carrier”, which sadly doesn’t leave much chance for her to contribute in an interesting way to the story. Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Thor’s friends the Warriors Three are precisely as undeveloped as they were in the previous Thor; there’s a strong implication that the writers were considering a love-triangle subplot between Thor, Sif, and Jane, but I’m rather grateful they dropped the concept rather than forcing it where it would detract from the main conflict.

On the whole, Thor: The Dark World is a somewhat flawed but still very enjoyable superhero movie, and a startling improvement over its lackluster predecessor. If the other upcoming “Phase 2” movies in the lead-up to Avengers: Age of Ultron follow Thor’s example, this second batch of movies could (barring Iron Man) prove an even more enjoyable build-up to the main event than Phase 1, and that is something to be proud of.

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