With the phenomenal success of The Avengers (2012), the next wave of Marvel Comics movies were bound to feed off of its good will and this was certainly true of Iron Man 3 (2013), which was a massive hit. Next up is Thor: The Dark World (2013), the sequel to 2011’s Thor, which introduced audiences to the version of the Norse god that Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby created back in the early 1960s in the pages of Journey into Mystery. I was never a big fan of the character, but director Kenneth Branagh and his screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne did an excellent job of introducing Thor and his world by juxtaposing his adventures on Earth with the crisis he faced on Asgard, the otherworldly realm where he lives. Branagh maintained a delicate balancing act between remaining faithful to the spirit of the source material and making it cinematic all the while giving the proceedings a certain Shakespearean flair. The end result was very entertaining and engaging movie. With this sequel would Marvel be able to replicate the quality of the first movie and build on it?
The Dark World takes place after the events of The Avengers. Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been banished to the dungeons for eternity while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his friends and fellow warriors Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Frandral (Zachary Levi) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) are cleaning up Loki’s mess by bringing order to the Nine Realms in an exciting battle sequence that not only does a nice job of re-introducing these characters, but ends on an amusing note.
The people of Asgard are enjoying a rare interlude of peace, but Thor still thinks of Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the beautiful astrophysicist he left back on Earth. She has been unsuccessfully trying her hand at dating while her colleague Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has lost his marbles running around Stonehenge naked, babbling about the Convergence, a rare occurrence that would see all Nine Realms align. While checking out a strange gravitational anomaly, Jane is transported into another realm where she’s infected by Aether, a substance that a race known as the Dark Elves tried to use eons ago in an attempt to unite the realms and plunge the universe into darkness. Jane’s discovery has awoken them from suspended animation and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is ready to renew his war against the Asgardians. Thor realizes that something is not right with Jane and takes her to Asgard and together they deal with the Dark Elves threat.
The Dark World does a nice job of upping the stakes considerably as Asgard is directly threatened as is Thor’s family, which makes it even more personal for our hero. Loki is back and once again gets the lion’s share of the juicy one-liners and scenes to steal. It’s a plum role that Tom Hiddleston clearly relishes playing. As he did in Thor, Chris Hemsworth maintains the right mix of cocky swagger and righteous heroism while playing well off of the always mischievous Loki. Hemsworth brings a steely determination and a physicality that is ideal for Thor. While the film moves at a brisk pace and is almost never dull, the scenes between Hemsworth and Hiddleston are easily the best parts as the rapport between the two actors, that has been cultivated over three movies now, is a considerable part of The Dark World’s charm.
Much like in Thor, Natalie Portman’s Jane is often relegated to the sidelines, due to her lack of superpowers, despite a half-hearted attempt to drum up some jealousy for her affection for Thor from Sif. However, after being a damsel in distress for two-thirds of the movie, she is given a lot to do during the action-packed climax, which thankfully redeems Portman’s character somewhat.
There is a bit more humor in The Dark World, which offsets the dark intensity of the epic struggle that is waged throughout, and this is due in large part to Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard who reprise their roles as Jane’s colleagues. The former provides her trademark dry sarcastic wit while the latter hams it up as a man who treads the line of sanity based on his experiences in The Avengers, but, as it turns out, might not be as crazy as everyone assumes.
The hiring of frequent Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor was an excellent choice as he brings a decidedly grittier edge to The Dark World and also applies a refreshingly straightforward approach to the action sequences. He keeps the movie’s pace brisk, but knows when to slow things down for a breather. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Thor, I think that The Dark World edges it ever so slightly because I felt more invested in Thor’s struggle this time out because there was more at stake on a personal level for the character what with his family personally attacked in a way that really hit home more than anything in the first movie. I was also pleasantly surprised at the amped up science fiction element with spacecraft flying around blasting lasers at each other and how this was seamlessly blended in with the more traditional mythological aspects. Once again, Marvel delivers a crowd-pleasing piece of rousing entertainment with a successful batting average we haven’t seen the likes of since Pixar’s glory days.