Review – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

The #RoadToInfinityWar leads us back to Asgard and the rival sons of Odin. As I alluded to in my review for Thor, it was a major surprise to see how well Marvel‘s god of Thunder and his entire mythos fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I wondered if they could make Chris Hemsworth and the role overall work, but boy, did he! It all worked out and so did he. In 2011, we saw his debut film; in 2012, we saw him again in The Avengers, and that following year, he got his own sequel in Thor: The Dark World. That’s a crazy schedule for any actor (especially in the same role).

The fast track in this sequel’s production was thrown for a loop when it lost Patty Jenkins as director, who would later go on to direct Wonder Woman. Alan Taylor, a seasoned TV director fresh off of Game of Thrones, stepped in to follow Kenneth Branagh‘s Shakespearean majesty. Taylor‘s pedigree suggested a darker turn, and the title cemented it. In the end, though, did the film work, despite the behind-the-scenes changes and quick turnaround?

In this film, we get an interesting start (visually, at least). Our villains this go-round are Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his race of Dark Elves (I’m not joking). In a flashback sequence, after attempting to unleash a dark force called the Aether during a convergence of the Nine Realms, the Elves are stopped by Odin’s father, Bor, and the entire race goes into seclusion, awaiting the time they can reawaken and use the Aether, hidden away by the Asgardians, to plunge the universe back into darkness.

Thor, following the events we’ve seen in his two previous films, has been playing clean-up throughout all the realms, as Loki’s betrayals plunged everything into chaos. That duty (as well as a broken Bifrost) has kept Thor away from Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth, who never stopped looking for his return to her. A convergence on Earth causes her to stumble upon the Aether and, worse yet, to become host to it. With Malekith, awakened and in pursuit of this power, Thor fights to keep Jane safe, both on Earth and in Asgard, and stop the elves from destroying life in the universe.

Loki returns here in a big way as well, with some interesting interplay with Thor this time. He’s always been likeable with his devilish charms, but here, the bickering brothers truly need each other and must work together. Tom Hiddleston owns the screen, whenever he’s on it, but we already know that by this time around. Sir Anthony Hopkins seems to have much less to do here than before, but he makes all his scenes worth it. Accompanying him as Frigga, Rene Russo actually gets memorable scenes this time. Natalie Portman shows a lack of energy in this role, as it is clear she would rather be doing something else. However, Darcy (Kat Dennings) shows much more enthusiasm, and she continues the unique type of light funny began in the first film. The Earth subplots feature new faces like Chris O’Dowd, as well as familiar ones like Stellan Skarsgard and Stan Lee.

Tonally, I felt this film was the most like the comics of all three Thor films. Sure, the first held more grandeur, and Thor: Ragnarok is undoubtedly more crowd-pleasing. Still, this film most evenly balances a connective feel throughout, no matter the realm the film takes us to. Where the film falls short is in creating any meaningful connection to Malekith and the Dark Elves. Visually, they look as good as anyone could ever hope they would, but in the end, we just don’t care about them because there is so little in the way of understanding or motivations. I liked that we saw even more realms this time beyond Asgard and Earth (Midgard). This was especially true in a sequence near the end. Overall, there wasn’t much in the way of memorable action scenes, but that part impressed me altogether.

Yet, aside from the interesting opening sequence and the creative conclusion, there is a lot that underwhelms in between. Sadly, many plot elements that are furthered here go nowhere beyond this, as the creative leads behind Ragnarok had no intention of picking them up. In hindsight, it makes so much of this film feel irrelevant. Aside from the Aether being an Infinity Stone and the post-credit scene with The Collector that bridges this film directly into Guardians of the Galaxy, there isn’t too much here that carries forward. Much of the stuff in Thor‘s character arc isn’t so much resolved here, as it is essentially put on hold. There are some character deaths here, but when one major one is undone even before the credits roll, it cheapens the event as a result.

Content-wise, there was unnecessary language to me, used mostly for comedy. Violence is relatively tame here, but as I said, expect some bloodshed with character deaths. There is the overly stretched love story of Thor and Jane (yes, including a final after-credit sequence showing us yet again that they must be together), but they aren’t overly sexualized here. Christian content isn’t really in any amount to speak of in the film; to add, while there isn’t really any content, there isn’t anything detracting from it all either.

All-in-all, I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, even if it didn’t get everything right to be the best it could be. It gets trashed more than it deserves, even if the villains did their best to provide reasons for people’s dislike. I genuinely enjoyed the look-and-feel of everything here, and while the film isn’t as important overall as some other MCU films, it does make for a comfortable rewatch. At least, it did for me.

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