Thor: The Dark World
The return of Thor is a bit of a new step for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man has felt like its own property that was folded into this project, but Thor was the first that felt essentially bound up with the approach to The Avengers. So while Iron Man 3 was the first post-Avengers installment, the question there was whether it could stand on its own again. But with Thor: The Dark World the question is whether it can stand on its own at all.
I thought the original entry did well enough for what it was, but it wasn’t exactly a broad success, despite the best efforts of big shots like J. Michael Straczynski and Kenneth Branagh. I can happily say that The Dark World is an unqualified success for the MCU. It may be the influence of director Alan Taylor, or maybe the screenwriting talents of Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; either way, it achieves an impressive balance of science-fiction and epic fantasy action. The one big sticking point is that you really do need to remember Thor and The Avengers to get on board; the filmmakers don’t really care to catch you up.
So let’s try a little here. After his attempt to take over Earth in The Avengers, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been returned to Asgard, where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has thrown him into the dungeons. The Bifröst bridge has been rebuilt after being destroyed at the end of Thor, Heimdall (Idris Elba) is back at his post, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been hard at work restoring order to the Nine Realms for the last two years. And since Bifröst fell, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been feeling neglected on Earth, looking around for any gravitational anomalies that might point the way to finding Thor again.
And indeed she finds one, stumbling through a weak point between worlds that takes her from an abandoned London factory to Svartálfheim, home of the “dark elves”. They were all but wiped out by Odin’s father when they tried to extinguish all light in the universe with the help of an ancient artifact which just happens to have been sealed away in the cave where Jane shows up. It leaps into her body and she carries it back to Earth, thus alerting Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the svartálfar, that after five thousand years he may finally be able to finish what he’d started.
As the MCU develops, Thor is taking its rightful place as the home of cosmic-scale conflicts, and all the denizens of the outer Realms do well to deliver their performances without a trace of irony. It’s also a welcome change that we spend most of our time in Asgard and the other outer Realms rather than on Midgard — Earth — like we did for most of Thor. We get to learn more about these characters who don’t fit comfortably into any of the other MCU properties. Thor, Loki, Odin, Frigga, Heimdall, Sif, and the Warriors Three are made for grand, operatic, epic tales, and The Dark World gives plenty of space for that.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.