If backed into a corner, I would likely name Thor as my favorite Avengers lead up film. It’s not really an origin story in the same vein as Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger, and it features some of the most genuine humor and the best romance in the Marvel films to date. Thor: The Dark World manages to keep the spirit and heart of the first film, while upping the spectacle and worldbuilding beyond even that of The Avengers.
Structured like that of a three-part Doctor Who episode, Thor: The Dark World is very exposition heavy up front, laying a lot of groundwork for the villian Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), an ancient elf who wishes to return the universe to darkness, and updating us on Thor’s world since returning Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard. This all builds to a rousing conclusion in which our otherworldy hero and his human companions stop an existential threat. Casual fans may feel that the film spins its wheels for the first hour or so, but personally, I was completely captivated by the far out ideas and space fantasy trappings. Superhero comics have long embraced crazy ideas, strange cosmic mythologies, and combining science and magic. It’s wonderful to see superhero films take a step toward doing the same.
Romance is a staple of Golden and Silver Age comic books, and something too often ignored in modern superhero comics and films that aren’t about Spider-Man. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is the best-written female character in any of these films, never just a damsel in distress, and offers more than just reflexive wit. She is equally suited to swooning over Thor, slapping Loki, or geeking out over quantum mechanics. The Jane/Thor relationship is rightly given center stage, and proves to be as complex as it should be for a long-distance relationship (ha!).
In fact, Thor: The Dark World has a plethora of well-written female characters. Jaimie Alexander continues to shine as Sif, an Asgardian warrior who can easily match her compatriots’ prowess. She doesn’t get enough dialogue to feel fully fleshed out, but Alexander makes the most of a few words and facial expressions to convey her pining for Thor and her curious jealousy of Jane. Renee Russo, reprising her role as Frigga, a character you may have forgotten, makes a huge impact as the only practical member of the House of Odin. Back on Midgard, Kat Dennings continues to shine as Darcy, providing ample comic relief, and proving that she is wasted on Two Broke Girls.
Unlike Iron Man 3, The Dark World largely escapes the “Can’t he just call the Hulk?” question due to the compressed timeline of events and the fact that Thor is (for now), the films’ only cosmic-level hero. Of course, having such a large supporting cast helps as welll, as most fans will just be glad they get so much of Loki in this film. I will always wish that we get more time with the Warriors Three, but sadly they have even less screen time than the first film.
Besides the large amount of exposition, the other flaw that sticks out in my mind is that Malekith is kind of a boring villian. Perhaps I allowed my expectations to be raised to high based on Eccleston’s casting, but I was expecting a more colorful, boisterous character. Eccleston is that kind of British actor who can chew scenery and ask for seconds, and Malektih barely emotes at all. His motivation is well-established, but he lacks any sort of flair whatsoever. Loki is able to fill most of that void, narratively, and the fans are not likely to be clamoring for the Dark Elf ruler’s return.
Thor: The Dark World is a well done superhero sequel, and a worthy entry in the Marvel film universe. It is the most aggressively comic book-like entry to date, and it’s good to see the tone of these films branching ever outward.
Thor: The Dark World opens today in Philly area theaters.