We’re going spoiler-free here, because we love you guys.
2011’s Thor got a lot right. While it may not have been the best Marvel movie to date, most would agree that it was probably the best Thor movie that could be made. Thor and his world is something of an uphill battle with general audiences and the movie did a fine job of setting up the rules and introducing the villain for 2012’s ultra-blockbuster, The Avengers. Thor: the Dark World takes the ball and runs with it in the best possible way, playing to the strengths of what makes Thor a unique character in the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The movie begins with an expository flashback that introduces us to our villain, the evil Malekith, the Dark Elf. With all of the nine realms aligned, he tried to destroy the universe with a dreaded weapon called the Aethir millennia ago, but Odin’s father, Bor, put a stop to all of that nonsense and Malekith was presumed dead. As luck would have it, the realms are aligning again and Malekith is totally not dead. Thus, we have a movie. In the two years since the Bifrost was destroyed, chaos has spread across the nine realms. With that in mind, we join our heroes in the present day slappin’ fools across the various ‘Heims, and it’s in these early scenes that the movie’s tone shines. Even after Jane Foster is reintroduced, The Dark World spends no more time on Earth (or “Midgard,” if you prefer) than it has to, and that’s definitely a good thing.
The script, co-written by comics scribe Christopher Yost, is pretty damn solid, but it’s at its weakest when dealing with the human characters. That makes sense, given that they’re absolutely the least interesting part of the story. That’s not to say that Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgärd and the dude whose name I’m not going to bother looking up didn’t do a fine job with what they were given. It’s just hard to care about them when there’s more Thor and Loki to see. It’s especially unfortunate that Selvig and his inventions are so integral to saving the day. This puts the human characters in the middle of an otherwise spectacular final battle scene. They definitely do their jobs in delivering some great lines to pop a few laughs, but they’re not necessary. Even worse, it isn’t very clear what exactly Selvig’s spikes were, how they worked, or how (or why) he invented them. They were little more than a MacGuffin.
The rest of the plot is generally great. The Thor/Loki dynamic is perhaps stronger here than we’ve ever seen it. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston are clearly comfortable playing these characters and their chemistry is excellent. Odin gets some more screen time and Queen Frigga gets to go all sorts of badass on the bad guys. When a prison break movie suddenly breaks out in the second act, everyone gets a time to shine. That’s not to say the Asgardian parts of the script are perfect. One of the movie’s biggest missed opportunities is the tease of a Thor/Sif/Jane love triangle that fizzles out only a few minutes in. It’s certainly put in the forefront, but it suddenly disappears. It’s almost like it’s a leftover from an earlier draft.
Minor gripes aside, Thor: the Dark World is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s something none of the others can be. It’s Lord of the Rings with a super hero, which is precisely what a Thor movie should be. The effects, costumes and sets are spectacular. The filmmakers created something wholly unique to this overarching world while still adding to its rich tapestry. Remaining spoiler-free, let’s just say that the mid-credit scene sets the stage for years of Marvel movies in a way most of us weren’t expecting. With big action, plenty of laughs and stellar performances, it’s easy to give Thor: the Dark World 4 out 5 “Meow meows.” It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close to it.