Not to throw the first Thor movie under the bus, but that film arrived at an interesting time for Marvel Studios. With Thor -- like Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk before it -- Marvel struggled to find the right tone, partly because The Dark Knight had made it so fans anticipated grittier superhero movies. While Thor introduced Marvel's most successful villain thus far in Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the entire thing just came off too small for a Thor movie, with a somewhat convoluted plot that still felt like it was all setup for a larger plan. With Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel Studios began to hit its stride, continuing to evolve its tone to fit in with Disney's lighter, more family-friendly vibe. Then The Avengers absolutely killed it. Joss Whedon helped bring balance to the entire Marvel universe, and as Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World begin their "Phase Two" initiative, things definitely play a lot smoother.
So smooth, in fact, that Thor: The Dark World finally delivers the big Thor movie we've been waiting for. This movie is completely off-the-wall bonkers. There are action sequences that won't make sense and a villain who you probably won't completely understand, but holy crap is this movie exciting to watch when the going gets, well, going. If the first Thor felt too tiny, then Thor: The Dark World doubles down by expanding to multiple realms while introducing tons of alien characters (and monsters) who add spoonfuls of sci-fi/fantasy eye candy for a big-screen Marvel fan base that needs it and most certainly wants it.
Following the events of The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard and can practically do whatever he wants now that he's restored peace to all nine realms. His brother Loki is locked away in an Asgardian prison, much to the dismay of his loving mother (Rene Russo), and things are pretty good... for about 20 minutes. That's when the villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns from a very long nap to reclaim a devastating force called the Aether that he wants to use to essentially destroy Asgard and the rest of the realms. This becomes possible when all the realms align for the first time in thousands of years, making it so Malekith can easily spread his Venom-looking Aether throughout the realms, subsequently forcing them all into darkness.
Why he wants to do this isn't entirely clear (though we'll go with the fact that he once lost a battle to Asgardians where almost all of his people were wiped out), and with help from a soldier turned monster called Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) -- as well as the stormtrooper-like Dark Elves -- our villains set off on a course of destruction, beginning with the crumbling of Asgard. This forces Thor to reteam with his brother Loki in order to exact revenge against the common enemy who attacked their homeland.
Of course our human friends all return as well, including Thor's love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who gets a heckuva lot more to do this time around seeing as at one point she accidentally has a run-in with the Aether. Again, though, the merging of Thor's earthbound friends and his home life in Asgard is still a bit awkward and, yes, a tad corny. Darcy (Kat Dennings) returns for more hit-and-miss comic relief, only this time she has a male intern to boss around. Meanwhile, thanks to Loki's hijacking of his brain in The Avengers, Dr, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is a complete lunatic who's aware that the realms will all be lining up, but his idea of warning people is to run around Stonehenge in his underwear screaming things.
The connection between Thor's world and Jane's world is definitely far-fetched, but not worth hating on because everything that surrounds it is fun and exciting to watch. Some definite nods to Empire Strikes Back will be felt, and the film is very successful in the small ways it sets up the rest of Marvel's Phase Two plan. The best parts of this action-obsessed sequel are of course the scenes that feature both Thor and Loki as siblings forced to team up even though they despise and don't trust one another. When these guys are doing their thing on-screen, they serve up some of the best Marvel's given us thus far.
Thor: The Dark World is definitely a little wobbly in the story department, but its action sequences are inventive, its characters are wicked and relatable, and there's so much wild scenery to chew on that if you're any kind of fan of comic books and comic book movies, you'll leave the theater with a big ol' dopey smile on your face. At least I did.
Thor: The Dark World hits theaters on November 8.
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