The second helping of the Marvel Movie Universe this year is Thor 2: The Dark World. While it is not without its flaws, Thor 2 is a slick adventure that should sit in the upper echelon of Marvel films.
As with the first Thor, the science fantasy world of Asgard remains the film’s most enthralling feature. It manages to feel alien while the inhabitants feel real. At least the named ones, anyway. The combination of fantasy and science fiction allows the film to mash up notes from Lord of the Rings along with Star Wars, resulting in a unique mix of familiar elements. One minute it’s a large scale pseudo-medieval battle, the next a dogfight with fanciful space ships. All of it is fun.
Also like the first film, the best parts feature Thor and his Asgardian allies Sif and the Warriors Three. They don’t have near enough screen time, but there short time is when the movie is at its best. That and Loki, who always delights. However, the plot hinges on Thor pining for the human Jane Foster and Jane doing the same for Thor. When Jane’s search for Thor has her uncover a long hidden Asgardian weapon, the two lovers are reunited and then a great evil strikes. The rest of the Earth based characters are charming, but feel largely superfluous, as though their parts in the movie were created so they would have parts in the movie.
The biggest flaw in the movie is the villain, Malekith. He’s played by Christopher Eccleston, which should have made for a slam dunk bad guy. Even his Dr. Who had undercurrents of menace about him. But apparently deciding that they could only afford one antagonist with personality and they already had Loki, Malekith has almost zero characterization. He wants to return the world to darkness, because that’s what he wants to do. He is a non-presence.
The other thing working against this film is just how slick Marvel Studios has become at pumping out these superhero movies. They have been doing two a year for half a decade now, they have the formula down pat. But it makes it hard for the film to differentiate themselves. Anytime Thor 2 feels like a superhero movie, mostly anytime it is on Earth, there is a sense of déjà vu. The otherworldly Asgard is new and interesting, that is where the films strength is. The more is revolves around that the better it is. Fortunately, while it works hard for the connection to Earth, to keep Thor connected to the other movies, most of the action takes place in Asgard and Thor 2 is all the better for it.
One more thing that must be noted, while there is much praise in the Marvel movies for Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, Loki is by far the best character in the universe so far. His rage and bitterness held in check just barely by his charming façade makes for the best villain. As does his familial connection to the hero Thor. Thor might be able to defeat Loki easily in a fair fight, but Loki would never let a fair fight happen and Thor has no desire to fight him. Despite his claims to the contrary in the film, it is clear that what Thor desires is his brother back and that desire colors all of his interactions with Loki.
Thor 2: The Dark World is simply great fun. It hits that perfect balance between action and comedy that made movies like Indiana Jones and Iron Man so popular. It make the slightly stale Marvel superhero formula fresh again. And unlike some other of these connected movies, the ties to other movies are completely organic. Thor 2 is easily the best superhero movie of the year and the best such sequel since X-Men 2.