It still kind of amazes me what Marvel Studios has accomplished, and a little moreso with each new Marvel film that arrives at the cineplex. Never the most approachable or relatable comic-book superhero, and certainly not the most popular, Thor has kind of hovered near the A-list of Marvel’s roster of superheroes, usually either at the bottom of the top, or the top of the middle. And yet against all odds, Marvel Studios has made Thor a movie star. And based on THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a better Superman than Superman.
Much like IRON MAN 3, THOR: THE DARK WORLD takes the franchise in a new direction, with a much greater emphasis on Asgard and otherworldly goings-on, as a reunited Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) struggle to save all creation from the Dark Elf warlord Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), with the assistance of the eternal trickster and double-crosser Loki (Tom Hiddleston, once again practically stealing the movie).
Nearly all of the cast from the original THOR film is back, both the Asgardian contingent like Thor’s parents, the Warriors Three, the Bifrost guardian Heimdall and woman warrior Sif, and the Earthbound crew of Jane Foster’s fellow scientist Erik Selvig (now a little brain-scrambled following his possession by Loki in the AVENGERS film) and wiseass intern Darcy, who’s now accompanied by an intern of her own in a funny secondary plotline. (An aside about Darcy, played once more by Kat Dennings: how is it possible that Dennings can be so funny and so appealing here in these THOR movies, and yet so unfunny and flat on her CBS sitcom? It’s like she’s two different people.) And yet with such a large cast, no one really feels short-changed (with the exception of Hogun the Grim, who shows up for a battle scene in the first act, and then heads home to see the family for the rest of the flick, only showing up again in a brief cutaway during the film’s climax). Both Thor’s Asgardian posse and the mere mortals have plenty to do and contribute well to the film’s narrative, an extremely well-carried-out balancing act.
Eccleston’s Malekith is a brooding, classic villain with an otherworldly presence, and while he may not be as well developed as, say, Heath Ledger’s Joker, I’d much rather have him play it silent and grim than give us yet another too-clever, scenery-chewing super-baddie as so often happens in your big-budget action movies. Sometimes less is more. And besides, the real focus of this film, even with all the high-stakes action and otherdimensional invasions, is on Thor and his relationships: with his father and friends, with Jane Foster, and most especially with his brother Loki, whom he’s forced to team up with in order to save Jane (and all the Nine Realms as well).
The Thor/Jane romance works even better here than in the first film, depending mostly on the respective charms of Hemsworth and Portman (which is fine, since the Jane Foster character in the comics was never all that interesting and didn’t have much of a personality to begin with), and the interplay between Hemsworth’s Thor and Hiddleston’s Loki is THOR: THE DARK WORLD’s real selling point. Watching Thor struggle with his desire to trust his brother, knowing that he can’t, while the two share occasional moments of bonding that remind you that beneath it all they are still brothers — it’s great stuff, and the kind of emotional underpinning that’s become a trademark of the Marvel films (along with the humor — even with all the Big Things at play here, the movie is fun, and funny: a lesson that Marvel’s rivals would do well to learn).
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel film without the post-credits bonus scenes; we get two this time — one offering a tantalizing peek at the world we’ll be seeing for the first time in August in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and a second that, while it doesn’t set up anything else to come in future films, is far too satisfying to miss. Don’t leave your seat till the lights come up.