I remember when they announced the first Thor movie and wondered how in the hell they were going to get it to work on-screen. Combing cool fantasy elements, and funny fish-out-of-water moments, Thor was a hit. Just two years later, we're already on our third film featuring the character. Sometimes it pays to just keep doing what you're doing.
In a very Lord of the Rings-ish prologue, we learn that long ago Odin's father fought with the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith sought to control the Aether, a weapon of unlimited power, to destroy the Nine Realms and return the universe to darkness. After being beaten back, the Aether was hidden where nobody would find it, which only means that some puny human is going to accidentally find it one day.
In the present day, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busy at work trying to bring peace to the Nine Realms after the events of both the first film and The Avengers. He's regained the respect of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who wants him to take over his throne, but it's clear to all that he longs to reunite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Personally, I would been all over Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but to each their own. Jane is investigating weird physical anomalies in London, where she comes in contact with the Aether. This awakens Malekith and he sets his sights on Asgard to reclaim it. Thor is forced to turn to the one person he cannot trust for help: his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Unlike the first Thor, much more time is spent in Asgard and you get a longer look at this realm, along with a few others. It all looks great, and the effects across the board are very good. There was a nice blend of sci-fi with the fantasy elements, and at times I was reminded of Krull. I had a problem with the 3D in Thor, so I skipped that this time. I didn't see anything about the visuals in The Dark World that screamed a need to see this in 3D anyway.
Many of the side characters get extended screen time and their moments to stand out, but I was left wanting much more of them, particularly Sif, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), and Fandral (Zachary Levi, replacing Josh Dallas). Heimdall's role was also expanded, but I think you can attribute much of that to the star power of Idris Elba. Even Thor's Mom, Frigga (Rene Russo) gets in on the action, and she shares some time with Loki giving you a little more insight into their relationship.
The Dark World's story is a little messy and takes a little too long to really get moving. If you take a look at the IMDB page, you'll see a lot of names involved with the story and screenplay, which is usually a bad sign. It's not so messy that it's hard to follow or a complete wreck, but it seemed to lack focus and the tone was a little inconsistent. You could see elements that were borrowed from other films, and I was also a little irritated with the consistent use of illusions to get a character out of danger.
Another weakness is that while there's a distinct villain and we understand what he's after, he wasn't all that interesting or menacing. Christopher Eccleston as Malekith was completely unrecognizable and spoke in a made up language for most of the film, making his casting a bit of waste. Much of Malekith's scenes felt really disconnected from the rest of the film.
Where Thor: The Dark World really shines are with any of the action scenes. Director Alan Taylor's experience with shows like Rome and Game of Thrones served him well. You're treated to several of these Lord of the Rings-esque fights, complete with illuminating swords, but with lasers and other technology thrown in. When we get to the final battle, it's very creative and manages to stand apart from the rest. It finished on a high note and fans should leave feeling satisfied.
The performances are great as well. Chris Hemsworth has really settled into the role and has ramped up his Thor-iness. In the first film, it felt like a guy playing dress up a bit, but now he truly feels like Thor. Thor's relationship with Jane was much more natural, and I think that's due in large part to the improved chemistry between Hemsworth and Natalie Portman. Finally, Tom Hiddleston knocks it out of the park as Loki. I've said for a while now that Hiddleston really seems to love playing the role and just chews it up any chance he gets. If anything, he makes a case for the first Marvel spin-off starring a bad guy. Come on, Marvel, make it happen. Loki: God of Mischief should be part of Phase 3.
Much like the first film, there's a good amount of humor sprinkled throughout the film. Much of this is provided by the puny Earthlings played by Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard and Chris O'Dowd. Sometimes their antics bordered on being silly, but the film benefit from these moments overall. There are also a few great Easter eggs, and you'll definitely want to stick until the end of the credits.
Thor: The Dark World isn't likely to win any new fans, but there's enough of the humor and action that made the first work to please existing ones. While the story is a little messy, the performances and action are a distinct improvement over Thor. Overall, it's a highly entertaining film, so don't hesitate to check it out this weekend.
3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars