At one point during the climactic battle of Marvel’s latest Avenger outing, Thor: The Dark World, space prince Thor and the villainous Malekith knock each other through portals, popping in and out of different worlds as they pound each other into the ground. After all that had come before, I expected Thor and Malekith to pause, look around and say, “Let’s not go to Asgard. ’Tis a silly place.” Because Thor: The Dark World is very silly movie—it’s basically a superhero take on Monty Python.
Which is not to say it’s bad. The Dark World is a big improvement on the first Thor, which was more unintentionally hilarious than not, whereas The Dark World deliberately sets up many jokes and lands them all and it never falls into unintentional hilarity. It is missing the Shakespearian weight that director Kenneth Branagh gave to the first installment, but in trade the sequel benefits from new franchise director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones), who brings visual detail, commanding action, and a breezy pace that sails right past all the narrative foibles and inconsistencies that, if you look twice, riddle the plot like Swiss cheese. But The Dark World defies its own problems because it is just so damn fun. And then, after you’ve had two hours of good fun, it ends with a bold stroke—not a conquering hero winning the day, but a triumphant villain coming back stronger than ever.
The plot almost doesn’t matter. There are very few consequences in The Dark World and generally the movie moves so fast you aren’t given time to linger on anything that has just happened. The movie picks up roughly a year after the events of The Avengers; Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned on Asgard while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels the nine realms, basically being the universe police (Team Asgard: Fuck Yeah!). Meanwhile, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is attempting to get over Thor and is pursuing Science! in London because filming in London is way cheaper than Los Angeles.
There is a MacGuffin so poorly explained they might as well have called it the “magical thingummy”, but the crux of the conflict is that the nine worlds are about to align for the first time in millennia and Jane sticks her hand into the magical thingummy, becoming possessed by it, because that’s a thing. Thor comes back to Earth just long enough to snatch Jane and take her back to Asgard for some space healing, and then the shit hits the fan. Act one drags as they set everything up, but once Jane gets to Asgard, and the evil dark elves lead by Malekith show up to get the magical thingummy, it really gets going.
Loki was the best part of Thor and it’s no different the second time around. Taylor and editors Dan Lebental (Iron Man 1-2) and Wyatt Smith (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) deftly cut Loki’s jailbreak like a heist film in true Ocean’s Eleven style. Thor needs to get Jane and the magical thingummy out of Asgard and he needs Loki to do it because Loki needs to be involved in the plot. His escape is a great action sequence, though, and act two, “The Thor & Loki Roadshow”, is easily the best part of the movie. Hemsworth is more confident in the role of Thor this time around, but Hiddleston is, still, the stand-out as Loki. He plays Loki not so much as an outright liar but as someone who talks in circles, poking and prodding weaknesses and exploiting perception, but when he drops a truth bomb, it carries extra weight.
There are some upgrades this time, too. Jane Foster, for one, is much less ditzy. Portman and Hemsworth still don’t have any chemistry, but the movie masks that by keeping them focused on fixing Jane and then saving the world. The relationship stuff pokes out here and there, and, wisely, it’s mostly played for laughs. Also recasting the role of Thor’s swashbuckling buddy Fandral with Zachary Levi (Chuck) was a good call. It’s a small part but a serious improvement—the guy actually has a discernible personality this time around, and as long as Marvel is in the TV show business, might I suggest one about Sif and the Warriors Three? Levi could totally carry it.
Another upgrade is the expanded roles of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Frigga (Renee Russo). Frigga is, in very short order, immensely likeable and badass, and her death is the only the only consequence of merit in the whole movie. The space-Viking funeral scene was beautifully rendered, and also served to highlight that it isn’t just Earth getting hammered in these cosmic battles. Asgard suffers heavy losses, too, somewhat balancing out the destruction of New York in The Avengers. But Odin is a total dick. He’s a complete asshole and it’s alluded to that he has caused a fair few deaths down on Earth himself, plus he seems to have no regard for human life—it’s really no wonder Loki turned out the way he did.
Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an entertaining, if inconsequential, action-fantasy with another great turn by Tom Hiddleston as Loki. It’s visually delightful to look at—Asgard actually feels like a real place with scale and architecture and a sense of culture—and is very funny with breezy, fast-paced action beats.
I’d put it in the top five of Marvel movies so far based on sheer re-watchability alone. I’d actually put it ahead of Iron Man 3 on that score—Iron Man 3 is the better movie, but The Dark World feels like a movie that will age well and remain enjoyable over multiple viewings. It’s just so silly and fun.ETA: That is crazy talk, I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s not a Top 5 Marvel movie and it’s certainly not better than Iron Man 3 in any way. The Dark World is, however, hella silly.
Loki totally killed Odin, right?
The first post-credit tag was directed by James Gunn and gives a sense of what Guardians of the Galaxy will be like. Namely, colorful and insane.
Are we ever going to discuss the fact that Loki has now survived death twice?
Best cameo in a Marvel movie of any kind, period.