The Marvel Cinematic Universe is undoubtedly one of the most interesting experiments of recent years in the film industry. The idea that you can bring together multiple big-budget franchises and make one fully realized universe is one that will likely inspire several copycats, and will certainly continue to make money for a long time.
Marvel decided a long time ago that they would separate their movies into phases. Iron Man through The Avengers was Phase 1, Iron Man 3 to The Avengers: Age of Ultron was Phase 2, and Ant-Man will begin Phase 3. Phase 1 was an ingenious, exciting, brilliantly executed experiment. Each film introduced the major players, and each end-credits stinger set up either the next film or a piece of information about The Avengers, which kept you invested and interested into the future films. Not only did Phase 1 produce some fantastic superhero films, it led up to one of the biggest success stories in film history, The Avengers, which went on to gross $1.5 billion worldwide and over $600 million in the US alone. Then Iron Man 3 rolled around earlier this year. The third film was a solid flick, and a great financial success as well. But it completely abandoned the formula that made the Phase 1 films so great. There was no end-credits stinger that set up an upcoming film, and the tone felt completely different from Iron Man and Iron Man 2. So despite being a very good film, Iron Man 3 was a bit of a misfire. Thankfully, Thor: The Dark World, Marvel's latest effort does not fall into those pitfalls. It's a really good superhero flick that's a ton of fun to watch and it stays true to its characters and series.
Thor: The Dark World continues the story of the Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth). It directly deals with both the aftermath of the first Thor movie and The Avengers. When our story begins, Thor is with his band of warriors led by Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano). They are attempting to fix the damage that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) caused across the nine realms. Thor thinks he has it all in hand, but the convergence of the worlds (a complicated matter that I can't explain here) is about to happen and a dark power is returning. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a dark elf who wants to possess a magic power, is back for revenge on Asgard and the nine realms. Thor must team up with Loki and reunite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to save the universe.
2011's Thor is one of the best entries in the first phase of the Marvel films. I realized that today. Watching this film, I had fonder memories of watching the original film which is criminally underrated at this point. Thor is a very unique universe with some of the most interesting characters in the whole Marvel universe. That's what makes Thor: The Dark World work. And trust me, this film works much better than it should. The story is far-fetched, and it's unbalanced at times, but it's a beautiful film to look at, the action is spectacular and it is very funny.
Thor: The Dark World thrives on its characters. This franchise has the best ensemble cast for a superhero franchise outside of The Dark Knight franchise. It is filled with great actors who have grown their characters over these last couple of years. Chris Hemsworth has become a powerhouse actor. He was great in Rush, and he really has begun to grasp his character of Thor. He has him down and is very entertaining to watch. Tom Hiddleston was always Loki and he's great here again. Also, I had no idea that Stellan Skarsgard could be so funny. He's spectacular in this film, and gives some great comic relief. Natalie Portman also gets some more to do in this film, which is good, because her character and the love story between her and Thor was horribly underdeveloped in the first film. All in all, beyond the four warriors, The Dark World really grows its characters even further, and manages to make Loki even more interesting.
This film's plot could be considered a weak point, but I felt that it worked for this franchise. The Thor franchise has always been the most outlandish of all the Marvel franchises. I mean, the first film has a rainbow bridge. Anyways, in this film, Malekith, the lead villain, wants to get vengeance on Asgard for the defeat of his army by Odin's father 5000 years ago during the last convergence of worlds. The convergence of worlds is when the nine realms are connected by something and it would allow Malekith to destroy/rule the world. None of this is explained in depth, but hey, there's a bad guy doing bad things. It's a Marvel movie, what do you expect. I'll give Thor some slack this time, simply because I felt like I understood what was going on enough that I wasn't confused.
The villain has been the subject of some hate. Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston, who played Doctor Who for a year. Eccleston has about one dialogue of line in English in this film and the rest is in some made-up language. He's fine, and I actually did enjoy his villain. No, he's not funny or that entertaining, but he's sufficient. Malekith is a pretty traditional baddie, but he has a clear motive and reasoning for what he's doing. That's a step up on Iron Man 3, in which the Mandarin had absolutely no reason for doing anything he was doing.
The Dark World has some problems. I mentioned a few in the last two paragraphs. The biggest problem was this unbalance that pervaded throughout the whole film. The film just never felt great when you were watching it and there were times when I didn't know what to think. Maybe that's just the tone of a Marvel movie, or maybe this was a problem that The Dark World had.
However, despite the problems of Thor: The Dark World, I really enjoyed this because it felt like a return to form for Marvel. Iron Man 3 was a good film, but it delved from a few of the important Marvel qualities, which was a bit of a disappointment. Thor: The Dark World both feels like it's a sequel to its predecessor and contains all of the elements that made the Phase 1 Marvel films special. If you look at Iron Man 3, it's 95% a sequel to The Avengers and 5% a sequel to Iron Man 2. It barely recognizes the events of Iron Man or Iron Man 2, and focuses mostly on The Avengers and its own plot. Don't get me wrong, I really like that movie, it's just doesn't feel like a Marvel studios film. Thor: The Dark World finds the perfect balance between being a sequel to Thor and The Avengers. Plus, it has a great mid-credits stinger.
All in all, Thor: The Dark World thrives on the traditional Marvel elements, its spectacular special effects and action sequences, and the fact that it has the best cast of characters in the Marvel universe. It really stayed true to the first film and entertained me throughout. It has some plot issues and it's slightly unbalanced, but Thor: The Dark World is a geeky, funny film that is a lot of fun to watch. Stay through the credits for a fun hint at Guardians of the Galaxy and other future Marvel films.
THE FINAL GRADE: B+ (7.6/10)