The original Thor showcased a young and arrogant warrior who was, indeed, not ready to be the wielder of Mjölnir (the mighty hammer) or the future king of Asgard. It was a coming of age story, in a way, but also a rather well done fish-out-of-water tale when it came to the majority of the flick when Thor had to reside on Earth. The joys of seeing Hemsworth, clearly having a great time, smashing a mug and asking for another drink were among the highlights of director Kenneth Branagh's take on the God of Thunder. Asgard also happened to be quite gorgeous if possessed of a rather too shiny Emerald City feel to it. It could, at times be a bit cold and Branagh (I love the guy, I do) isn't exactly the best regarding action.
We're a few years removed now from the events of the first film and a year and a half (or so) from the event of the The Avengers. Thor has evolved from the cocksure boy that attempted to be a man to a truly epic hero. He's also lost a bit of what made him so compelling in those other films. He was a bit of a wild card, honestly, and it brought a good dynamic to the team-up film. This time around Chris Hemsworth's Thor is a bit duller, sadly, if more heroic.
Dark World jumps between Asgard and Earth, as in the last, but thankfully spends more time within the other nine realms this time. We still have the fish-out-of-water comedic beats that worked so well in the original though now it is thanks to Jane Foster walking the halls of Asgard. She is out of her element and the results work quite well, for the most part, but one of the biggest problems from the first film rears its ugly head once more. Someone needed to let Natalie Portman know that there was real acting to be done. We're given, instead, a rather one note portrayal of the love-struck scientist. We've got a slightly less interesting Thor pairing up with a rather boring Jane Foster and the result is less than inspiring.
It also suffers from a rather forgettable villain, as other Marvel films have in the past. I don't fault the very talent Christopher Eccleston for this, though, as one of the biggest faults with the film comes from a script that, mostly, doesn't have any of the ancillary characters doing much more than offering quips. Eccleston could have made the Dark Elf Malekith a truly horrifying antagonist. He is instead buried under make-up and later CGI, and we're left with yet another Marvel show that has yet another one note villain. There is an entire issue with Loki being the only good long-term threat thus far in the Marvel Universe but that's for another post.
Even with all that said there was actually quite a lot to like here. Alan Taylor, formerly one of the directors who brought Westeros to life in HBO's Game of Thrones, brings the high fantasy elements mixed with Norse aesthetics into the Asgardian realm. The result is magnificent. The digital FX team really deserves props for what they pulled off here and Taylor further deserves credit for keeping Asgard grandiose and awe-inspiring yet feeling lived in. It had a sense of presence to it that was simply missing from the first film. The Norse influence was really hammered home by the gorgeous Viking funeral that takes place during one brilliantly framed scene. The action scenes don't feel muddled but rather well-executed and, as they should be, completely over the top. One could complain that there's far too much CGI involved and it ends up being two near invulnerable beings clashing in the film's climax but honestly, if you're coming into a Marvel movie with some sort of inability to suspend disbelief then maybe this entire line of superhero cinema isn't for you, dear reader.
I love that Taylor and crew fully embraced the absurdity that comes from putting these comic book concepts to film. There's a fluid super weapon known as the Aether, molecular analysis machines known as soul forges, Viking long boats with rocket thrusters on them and so many other things that I lose count. It's outlandish and wonderful, honestly, and I had more fun with this installment of our muscle-bound hero's adventures than the last.
It is also, thankfully, far more light-hearted at times than the prior effort. Whedon's touches are felt throughout from a particularly well done scene involving Jane Foster on a lunch date (Chris O'Dowd as the poor fellow at the table with her just KILLED it here with so little to work with in regards to screen time), the rather spry banter between Thor and his comrades and so on. Further comedic relief can be found via the intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and the rather affected Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) - remember he did have a "God in his head" back in The Avengers - provide plenty of much needed balance to what could have been yet another very serious Thor film. The Asgardian heroes that surround Thor are all quite likable if they don't have a ton to do besides look great in costume. Rene Russo does a whole lot with very little development as Thor's mother, Frigga. Anthony Hopkins is present and accounted for as Odin providing narration duties in the beginning and mostly just looking grand in his armor.
The chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth might have been lacking but the romantics are rather muted compared to real meat of the story. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor. The sibling rivalry and in-fighting continues on-screen. Loki, brought back in chains to Asgard following his attempt at world domination in Avengers, is as snide and mischievous as ever. He steals pretty much every scene he's in and further cements his place in the Marvel cinematic universe as a vital pillar of it. The best scenes in the movie tend to be when Thor and Loki are on-screen together as the uneasy alliance they must form to face the looming threat of all things becoming darkness thanks to Malekith and The Dark Elf Experience. The true heart of the film lies within the sibling rivalry between the two Asgardian brothers. Thor's virtue and unwillingness to trust the conniving Loki is palpable while Hiddleston imbues his character with such charisma and cunning that it is impossible not to like him. That's how you play a good villain folks. It was far more compelling than anything else in the film, the teaser for future Marvel films aside.