Thor: The Dark World is mighty middle-of-the-road. As the eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: The Dark World is crucial for introducing the second Infinity Stone. As well as dealing with the aftermath of The Avengers from the perspective of the Asgardians. Thor: The Dark World has the unfortunate distinction of being one of, if not the weakest installment in the MCU. The Incredible Hulk notwithstanding. The sequel nevertheless bears a few admirable qualities. It was the first MCU movie to have a subtitle. Although they could’ve done a bit better with something as generic as The Dark World.
It was also the first Marvel Studios film to go without the Paramount Pictures logo. Turning the Marvel logo into a longer, more dynamic image. I was probably more excited about Thor: The Dark World than most fans who were still conflicted about the God of Thunder. The production was just a bit more complicated since Kenneth Branagh opted out of directing. For a time, he was surprisingly replaced by future Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins. It’s probably best they didn’t stick with her, because she originally wanted a Romeo & Juliet style story. So Jenkins was instead replaced by Game of Thrones experienced director Alan Taylor. With his direction came a gritty realism that made Thor: The Dark World work…
Thor: The Dark World is pivotal for being the first MCU movie released during the fall. Proving that a tentpole superhero flick didn’t need a summer release to be successful. Sure it wasn’t the billion dollar success that Iron Man 3 was, but it still turned a profit. Even with a Rotten Tomatoes score as low as 66%. Thor: The Dark World was the last MCU film to have its Blu-ray accompanied by a Marvel One-Shot. All Hail the King brought back Ben Kingsley as an imprisoned Trevor Slattery in order to hint at a possible redemption for the real Mandarin. There was even a surprise cameo from Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. It was the last One-Shot since Marvel TV was becoming the more definitive source of universe expansion. Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired in 2013 months before The Dark World, there was an episode that directly tied into it. The episode amounted to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents cleaning up the mess and commenting on how dreamy Thor is.
Chris Hemsworth is now even more confident as the stoic God of Thunder. Although he is a bit mopey walking around in a blue robe. Like the comics, Thor is more torn between worlds than he was before. His look is so much better with heavier detail on his chestplate and longer blonde hair with a Viking braid. His flowing red cape and hammer were already perfect. Of course Hemsworth also has his obligatory shirtless scene. Alan Taylor was sure to bring a lot of Game of Thrones influence to the look of Asgard, as well as grand scale battles. Asgard can’t look too different than the golden CGI kingdom it was before. The environment is the same, but you can definitely see more age and beauty in the architecture. The rest of the Asgardians have similarly improved armor. Since there’s still no time to explore all Nine Realms, The Dark World focuses on the titular dark world Svartalfheim. Home of the Dark Elves and its power hungry leader Malekith. Apart from Loki, Thor doesn’t have the most recognizable rogues gallery.
Malekith is arguably the weakest villain in the MCU. The wildly eccentric dark elf from the comics is turned into the most generically evil stock villain you could imagine. Christopher Eccleston tries his best, but a pointy eared elf with dark armor isn’t gonna beat Loki. After his attempted rule over Midgard, the God of Mischief is finally given his punishment from Odin. Tom Hiddleston was born to play Loki at this point. He understood that apart from a trick here or there, Loki needed to grow from his experience as a villain. He’s sentenced to an eternity in the Asgardian prison. The most interesting part of The Dark World is how much more blurred the line between magic and science becomes. Despite their viking appearance, the Dark Elves fly around in a swordlike spaceship, Asgardians use energy weapons, energy force fields, and ride in skiff aircrafts. There’s still too much of Earth, but at least the Nine Realms are given more attention. As are the returning actors who are given more to do in the shockingly short 1 hour & 52 minute runtime. Anthony Hopkins continues to narrate the origin of this movie’s McGuffin.
Centuries ago, an epic battle was fought between Odin’s father Bor and the wicked Dark Elves. Instead of the already established Casket of Ancient Winters, Malekith is after the Aether. Red space sludge that can transform all of reality. Malekith’s evil plan is to plunge the realms into eternal darkness with the help of the Convergence. An event that aligns all Nine Realms together. The Avengers are once again not involved since most of the movie’s events take place off world or in London. Thor’s excuse for not returning to his love Jane Foster, is his obligation to restoring peace to the warring Realms. Asgard’s sister realm Vanaheim is briefly seen as a village where Thor and company fight the good fight. Only ending when Thor reduces a Kornan to a pile of rubble. Thor’s friends are each given some time to shine. Jamie Alexander explores Lady Sif’s love for Thor as they continue to fight side by side. It could’ve started a love triangle, but this was Sif’s last theatrical appearance for a long time. Alexander did however make two seperate appearances as Sif on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Warrior’s Three are separated when Tabano Asano’s Hogun chooses to stay with his Vanaheim people. It’s a shame since Hogun is actually given a comic accurate Japanese beard. Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg has the most attention of the three, but his hearty appetite isn’t shown much. Not that anyone would notice, but Fandral was recast for the third time in a row. Stuart Townsend was the original actor chosen before being fired for his primadonna behavior. Joshua Dallas was recast in the part, but Once Upon a Time prevented him from returning. So Flynn Rider himself Zachary Levi was recast in his place. Idris Elba takes a much more active role as Heimdall. Since the Bifröst Bridge is fully restored, Heimdall shows more comradery with the Prince of Asgard. His all-seeing eyes alert Thor to Jane when she’s put in danger. Earth is easily the weakest part of the movie since the humor doesn’t always match what goes on in Asgard. Natalie Portman has an expanded role as scientist Jane Foster, but it feels like she’s phoning it in at times. Jane is now living in London and going on a date with a hapless Chris O’Dowd.
Although her absence was explained in The Avengers, Jane’s frustration with Thor’s absence seems a little over done. Since Dr. Erik Selvig was the most affected by Loki’s mind control, Stellan Skarsgård strips naked to go on a crazy rampage. He talks about the Convergence in a mental institution that also houses Stan Lee’s humorous cameo. Kat Dennings continues to get a few laughs as Darcy, but giving her an intern was a bit much. Ian is just kind of there to be kissed or pushed around by Darcy. Jane, Darcy, and Ian all witness the Convergence affecting reality. Trucks float in mid-air and portals send objects between realms. Jane becomes the “fish out of water” when the Aether possesses her body. So Thor returns to Earth to take her to Asgard. Thor and Jane are even more in love than they were before, but I still wouldn’t call it a deep relationship. Odin is very much against Jane’s presence until he helps them to better understand the Aether’s ancient power. The Dark Elves awaken to search for the Aether and Malekith enlists the help of Algrim played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Like the comics, Algrim is transformed into the monstrous Kurse.
The best character expansion is given to Thor and Loki’s loving mother Frigga. Rene Russo got to explore her nurturing side, her witch magic, and her fighting spirit. Frigga is the only person Loki truly cares for as he passes time in his cell. She’s also the only one who approves of Thor’s relationship with Jane. The Dark Elves attack Asgard when Kurse breaks out of their prison and disables their shield. All of Frigga’s increased importance was due to her death at the hands of Malekith. A blast from Thor’s lightning gives Malekith his comic accurate blackened face before he escapes. All of Asgard mourns the loss of their queen in a beautiful Viking funeral that sends her to Valhalla. Events from the first movie are sort of rehashed when Thor decides to commit treason in order to save Jane and destroy the Aether. Heimdall, Sif, and the Warriors Two each play their part in holding off Asgardian forces. Meanwhile, Thor enlists the help of his estranged brother since he knows all the secret exits out of Asgard. Turns out Loki looks much worse than he was letting on, but he perks up by altering his and his brother’s appearance. His funniest appearance change is pretending to be Captain America in a surprise cameo from Chris Evans.
Of course Loki’s help earns him threats and a slap from Jane in response to New York. Thor and Loki’s brotherly banter is always a highlight and it really shows in a fun spaceship flying sequence. Loki backseat drives as Thor crashes into everything in sight. They only escape when a portal sends them into the dark world. Svartalfheim is a very bland and lifeless location, but it is the best place to face Malekith. It seems like Loki is betraying Thor by chopping off his hand, but it was all a ruse to extract the Aether. Except it can’t be destroyed by mere lightning. Malekith absorbs the Aether and finally looks a little closer to his comic book counterpart. A battle sees Thor and Loki fighting together, but Kurse wounds Loki before his destruction. Loki’s second “death” is a bit more emotional as Thor stays by his brother’s side. Thor and Jane only return to Earth through the London portal where they reunite with Darcy and a recently released Selvig. Thor is still pretty serious, but Chris Hemsworth does sneak in some lighthearted moments like hanging up Mjolnir on a coat hook. The climax takes place in Greenwich where Malekith plans to unleash the Aether on the Convergence. Jane and Selvig prove themselves useful by installing devices that open portals on his army.
Thor and Malekith’s fight is at first traditional, but it gets very over-the-top when they hop from realm to realm and his hammer is sent flying in all directions. They even end up in Jountinheim where an ice beast chases after them. It’s only by using Jane’s device that Malekith’s arms are torn off for the second time in Phase Two. Then a portal sends his ship crashing onto him in the dark world. In the end, Thor decides he can’t be king when he has so much to do on Earth. Little does he know he’s been talking to Loki disguised as Odin sitting on the throne of Asgard. That striking image is followed by a crucial mid-credits scene that confirms the Aether to be an extremely important Infinity Stone. Sif and Volstagg bring the stone to the Collector as they explain that they want it separate from the equally powerful Tesseract. The after-credits scene is less crucial as it sees Thor returning to Earth and an ice beast running amuck. Fun fact, Hemsworth was actually making out with his wife Elsa Pataky since Natalie Portman had scheduling conflicts. Thor: The Dark World may not have struck thunder, but its impact is greater than its execution.