The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the third highest grossing film franchise in the world, more profitable than Star Wars and only falling below Harry Potter and James Bond respectively. Of course, that may yet be set to change. Reportedly we are merely half-way through this sprawling series, which is set to encompass further individual sequels (as we have here) and culminate in a third Avengers film to follow the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron (due out May 2015).
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves for now though. In order to get there Marvel have to show consistent quality in the films leading up to it, and they faced no greater challenge than the sequel to the most disappointing (for me) film of the ‘first phase’. That was Thor 3-D, starring Chris Hemsworth as the title character and Natalie Portman as fast-tracked love interest Jane Foster, with Tom Hiddleston playing a spoilt child as the villain, Loki. The latter went on to bigger and better things of course, while the love story between Jane and Thor was thankfully left out of Avengers Assemble in favour of more fighting, which was really supposed to be Thor’s main strength all along.
Where to go from there then? Well, Thor: The Dark World smartly ups the scale significantly from the first film. While large sections of the movie are still set on Earth, larger sections are set elsewhere. Finally, we can spend more time getting to know Asgard as a tangible place, somewhere that other beings live and breathe in a functioning society. There are even a few sneak peeks into worlds we have not yet seen in the films before this one.
That sort of brings us on to the story. Christopher Eccleston makes an almost unrecognisable (but nonetheless effective) appearance as main villain Malekith, a dark elf that ruled the universe with his army of dark elves before the Nine Realms existed and light took over everything. Upon defeat by the armies of Asgard, Malekith’s original plan (told in a prologue sequence before we see the opening titles) to flood the Nine Realms with darkness is foiled, and he enters into a form of cryo-sleep, presumably to wait for another chance – although he does seem the type to prefer a permanent coma over death in any case.
It is none other than Jane Foster who helps reawaken Malekith through a weird series of events that isn’t fully explained until later in the film, and even then proves difficult to understand. Regardless, you didn’t come for this part. You came to see Thor kick butt or get his butt kicked, and if Malekith didn’t show up when he does then you’d be in doubt as to how and when it’s going to happen. It all appears to be happy celebrations of peace and casual dating beforehand.
Malekith soon sets his sights on Asgard (his miniature invasion is arguably the most entertaining part of the film), but his ambitions are much more far-reaching. This sort of creates one of the problems with this whole fictional universe. He does plan to eradicate all existence except his own, after all. You’d think it represents a slightly bigger crisis than Loki conquering humanity, specifically the little pocket of humanity contained in New York, as we saw in Avengers Assemble. Malekith does eventually arrive on Earth’s shores, but the rest of the team that previously assembled are nowhere to be seen or found, and Thor is left to clean up the mess created by his own love interest almost single-handed.
I say almost because of course Thor does have a little extra help in this movie, from none other than his enemy in the previous two. Loki, played once again by the enigmatic Hiddleston, proves the shining star for a film in which he ironically gets less screen time than his previous appearances, but more sincere and comical moments. His presence alongside Thor provides edginess to an alliance that you constantly feel won’t be lasting long but will certainly be fun while it does. Hiddleston’s confidence in the role appears to increase each time he plays the character, and crucially he is not too overused either.
Action sequences are The Dark World’s true strength. Grittier and more personal than the first film, you can see the influence of new director Alan Taylor’s previous work on Game of Thrones almost glowing through them, particularly during a point around two thirds of the way through, when we witness Thor and co face off against some Dark Elves in what is the closest thing you’re going to see to a fist fight in Asgardian terms.
The movie retains some of the more annoying elements from its predecessor – such as cardboard comic relief cut-out Darcy Lewis and her new young male intern, who later becomes a love interest upon saving her life. It’s clichéd stuff that’s only there to provide a light-hearted contrast to the rest of the film’s action. Thankfully though, Kat Dennings actually does a decent job with the character; it’s the writing I would have problems with, rather than her portrayal of it. Then again, perhaps I’ve just been spoiled on Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman – there aren’t many that can pull off bad humour better than he.
This is what you get with Marvel, after all. Everyone will have their favourite avenger, and those who prefer the modernity of Tony Stark or the level-headedness of Captain America are probably going to feel less inclined to buy into the mythological concept of Asgard and the Nine Realms. Most of us, though, understand that this is exactly what it’s supposed to be: playful fun. Yes, it’s nonsense that with all the superheroes currently on Earth, Thor should be the only one that turns up to prevent the entire universe from being sent back to the dark ages. But if there’s one universe that depends on you not asking too many questions for it to keep working, it’s probably this one. And as Thor: The Dark World ends, you’ll be left with the impression that, for now, it’s in very good hands…
8 / 10.