Thor: The Dark World Review: Worthy

Thor: The Dark World Review: WorthyIn full disclosure, I am a huge Thor fan. He has always been my favorite Marvel Comics character, and for that reason, this review could be slightly skewed, as I am more prepared to give it a pass on certain issues within the context of the film. That being said, I will explain my issues so you, the readers, can decide for yourself if it is a make-or-break problem for you.

Thor: The Dark World takes place two years after the events of the first film, and some time after the Battle of New York, as seen in 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. After a quick set-up scene explaining the Dark Elves and their leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccelston) trying to bring eternal darkness to all nine realms via a weapon/substance called the Aether, we jump ahead to the present.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been busy working to keep the nine worlds from killing each other due to the actions of his adopted half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor and his Warriors Three, Fandral (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) along with Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) travel from realm to realm, fighting battles and helping to keep–or restore–the peace.

Thor: The Dark World Review: Worthy

Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is now in London, chasing astral-spacial anomalies and trying to kick start her love life with a new guy, Richard (Chris O’Dowd). When Darcy (Kat Dennings) shows up during a date with news of something crazy happening nearby, Jane leaves, hoping that the anomaly will reunite her with Thor.

Instead, at an abandoned warehouse, Jane finds that the walls between dimensions are thinning due to something called the Convergence, where all nine realms line up perfectly, and she is sucked into a mysterious realm and accidentally unleashes the Aether, that had been sealed up by Bor (Tony Curran), Odin’s father–the All Father’s Father–after Malekith’s defeat from the prologue. This act reanimates the long slumbering Dark Elves, and they put into motion a plan to once again bring all nine realms of Yggdrasil–the world tree–into eternal darkness.

This is only scratching the surface of the amount of story in Thor: The Dark World. If you thought the first film’s story was a little too simple, The Dark World rectifies that. Screenwriters Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based off a story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat, read the source material. We get to actually see the physical Yggdrasil this time around. Also, watching Bor in battle made me incredibly giddy, and witnessing Thor actually kick some ass, all the while quipping jokes, like a good Norse/Viking Deity would, is very welcomed. And watching Mjolnir–Thor’s enchanted hammer–perform like it does in the comics I’ve read for most of my life was exhilarating.

The action is primarily set on Asgard, with jaunts to Svartalfheim (The Dark Elves home world) and Midgard (earth), which is a welcome respite from the budget-conscious decision to focus the story in a small town in New Mexico as in the first film. Most of the primary cast returns from the original, in addition to actors already mentioned: Sir Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin, Idris Elba reprises his incredible Heimdall, and Renee Russo gives comfort as Frigga, Thor’s mother.

Thor: The Dark World Review: Worthy

While 2011’s Thor was considered “Shakespearean” due to the direction of Kenneth Branagh, The Dark World could be considered much more in line with the comic book source material. Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) gives us an Asgard that is now equal parts swords and sorcery and space opera science fiction, much like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby envisioned in 1962 when they created the world of Thor. Asgard is shiny and glistening on the surface, but in the alehouses and shops on the streets, it’s dirty and looks lived in. There are hovercrafts, and boats and airships–some even in space, and the entire production simply marvels (pun fully intended).

The direction flourishes during action scenes–and it is the film’s greatest strength–with three or four huge battle set pieces, not including the final battle between Thor and Malekith. When there is a break in the action, The Dark World stumbles a bit. Taylor falls back on his Game of Thrones storytelling style, and more is implied than shown, and characters come and go with zero introduction. Tyr, the Asgardian God of War (Clive Russell)–and one of my favorite Asgardians from the comic books–is in The Dark World, but I didn’t know who it was until the end credits.

The one exception here is a scene midway through the second act where Thor and The Warriors Three concoct and execute an intricate plan. Taylor shoots this scene perfectly, using the tried-and-true, dimly lit round table, with each person being assigned a task, while the film cuts to see that task performed. We’ve seen this in just about any heist film ever made, and it works here almost as homage to the films that came before. It is one of the highest storytelling points in The Dark World.

Also, the now-requisite Marvel Studios comic relief is funny more often than not, with a great line by Eric Selvig (Stellan Skaarsgard) at the end of the second act, and the usual Darcy-isms that have been in most of the commercials and trailers, which helps bridge the film between the sometimes-intense action sequences.

Thor: The Dark World Review: Worthy

One major pitfall in The Dark World centers around lead villain Malekith. I know the character from the comics, and I don’t need his motivations and backstory as I’ve read them for decades, but in the film, the audience is never told why he wants the world covered in darkness. He’s a villain–a pretty great one at that–without a true purpose. And that failure dampens Eccleston’s incredible performance, as well as the powerful final battle. In as much as Loki was not equal to Thor’s strength in the first film, Malekith is probably more powerful than Thor here. But the threat didn’t seem real, as we–the audience–were never told what was at stake.

The Marvel Studios films don’t have great villains. To date, it’s Loki and…well… Tony Stark fights the corporate/tech/science-based nemesis of the week in each film, the Red Skull is essentially dead and gone, and The Hulk had the Abomination and the promise of the Leader, but we will most likely never see either of them again. In a universe bereft of classic comic-based villains, Thor: The Dark World missed a golden opportunity to create another fantastic foil for the heroes of the Marvel Studios Universe to tangle with. Well, at least until The Mad Titan makes his move.

But even with all of that, I still loved this film. This is the Thor film I wanted the first time out. Save for possibly The Hulk (cheap shot punch in The Avengers notwithstanding), Thor is the most powerful member of the Avengers. When he’s able to flex his muscles, all real here, no CGI, it’s awesome to watch. The battles are intense and fun and epic and destructive, and unlike this summer’s Man of Steel, thousands of people aren’t presumably killed in the process.

Thor: The Dark World Review: Worthy

Thor: The Dark World was converted to 3D in post-production, and other than Marvel Studios going for a quick cash grab, it is entirely unnecessary, as it does nothing to enhance the film. I also want to mention the fantastic score by Brian Tyler, who also scored Iron Man 3. Tyler’s score gives Thor a theme for the first time, and one that I hope stays with the character through subsequent films.

Thor: The Dark World is in the upper echelons of Marvel Studios Films. It is much better than the first film, but not as good as The Avengers. The character–and Hemsworth’s complete owning of him–is finally able to shine and be the God of Thunder that Lee and Kirby envisioned decades ago. Other than a few issues with the villain, The Dark World is a story-heavy, eye-popping spectacle, and a good representation of a live action comic book as there has been. And based on the two end credits stingers–one midway through, one at the end–it’s only going to get better. We will see Thor again. We will see Asgard. You can take that bet to Infinity.

Thor: The Dark World is rated PG-13 opens in North America on Friday, November 8.

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