It takes a long time to get going, but once it does, Thor: The Dark World winds up being a successful movie in its own right and a definite improvement on its predecessor. It’s just a shame that it takes over half the running time to establish or re-establish everything in this universe, set up the plot, unleash the bad guys, and have Thor try to save not only the world, but the entire universe. That part of the movie is good fun. All the sitting around, talking about nothing much while waiting for the plot to begin? Not so much.
The plot: An item called the Aether winds up in the body of first-film-love-interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She’s a scientist working alongside Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), her comedy relief intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), and her intern’s intern, Ian (Jonathan Howard). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fell in love with her in the first film. The Aether is something that a race of Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), can use to destroy the universe, or something. It was hidden for centuries, but now it has been unearthed. Queue the fighting.
Seriously, queue it up, because we have to get through a ton of exposition and world building before we get to much fighting. Sure, there are a couple of smaller action scenes in the first hour, but it’s not until the second half when The Dark World really gets moving. I suppose we can congratulate it for at least having a story to tell — the first film only barely did — but it’s so unnecessarily confusing and told with so much exposition that you can only applaud the effort to a limited degree.
It’s possible that some of the problem is that in this Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has become the most interesting and enjoyable character in the Thor stories. In this film’s first half, Loki is locked in prison and rarely seen. He’s sprung in the second, allowing the character to be taken in a different direction and giving us someone alongside Thor who is actually interesting. Love interest Jane and stone-faced Thor just can’t cut it.
Once that jailbreak occurs and the plot has been set in motion, Thor: The Dark World becomes a legitimately great superhero film. The action is fun and thrilling, the comedy is … well, it’s there in the form of Darcy and Ian, and the special effects are fantastic and almost seamless — even though some might complain of CGI-overload, it looked great to me and even though you know it’s CGI, it doesn’t look different from what real life would be.
I’ll also take having an overly complicated plot over one that’s essentially nonexistent. That’s what the two Thor movies basically come down to. The first one established the character but had the bare minimum in terms of story. This one recognized that problem but overcompensated. As a result, the story requires too much exposition to get over with an audience. A middle ground would obviously be preferable, and I’m hoping that it comes from the third installment, which I have no doubt will happen. They’re on the right track with The Dark World.
It’s also very clear that the film is far more interested in its superheroes rather than its humans. All of the humans are one-dimensional. Jane is the love interest, Darcy is the comic relief, Dr. Selig is crazy and is in the film because he was in the last one, Ian is also comic relief but mostly there just for Darcy to use as a tool to generate more laughter. And apart from Jane, who also functions as a plot device — no, that doesn’t mean she’s two-dimensional — they’re all unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
The only actors who truly seem like they’re having a good time are the ones playing Norse gods. Oh, and Kat Dennings, although it seems like it would be hard for her not to bring energy to a project. Chris Hemsworth is stoic as Thor, Tom Hiddleston is campy, hilarious, and scene-stealing as Loki, Anthony Hopkins gets more to do this time around and is great at it as Odin, Thor’s father and Loki’s adoptive father, and Idris Elba gets a couple of great scenes as the all-seeing Heimdall, much like he did last time around. There’s only one cameo from another Avengers member, but it’s a great one.
As with all of the Marvel movies, you’re encouraged to stay through the credits. Thor: The Dark World contains not one, but two scenes after the main action is over. The first is a mid-credits scene and the second happens right at the end. Admittedly, the only “important” one — in terms of the universe and story — is the first one, but I recommend sticking through to the end. Chances are it will wind up mattering in one of the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Thor: The Dark World is an improvement over its predecessor, even if only half of it truly works. It takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it’s a lot of fun. After we trudge through the exposition and world-building, we get a thrilling visual spectacle filled with a lot of action, comedy, and heart. Its human characters are shallow and largely unnecessary, the screenplay needed some work, but I’ll take this over the first film anyway. Having too much stuff is better than not having enough.