Diving into Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2013, the year of stacked comic book movies started with Iron Man 3 and ended with another sequel featuring another Avengers member in Thor: The Dark World. Although the original Thor from 2011 might be a hit-or-miss origin story for some, I still think it was fun enough that’ll hopefully lead to something better. Just two years later, the hype was there for the cosmic follow-up, as it was one of my most anticipated blockbusters of the fall movie season. Many had the expectations that this would be an improvement over its predecessor, and when I enjoyed it, I also hoped this would be better. And when I saw it opening weekend, my initial reaction was good, didn’t love it. But after watching it again for the third time now, it’s not terrible; it’s just one of those Marvel films that’s very underwhelmed.
In ancient times, the gods of Asgard fought and won a war against an evil race known as the Dark Elves. The survivors were neutralized, and their ultimate weapon — the Aether — was buried in a secret location. Hundreds of years later, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) finds the Aether and becomes its host, forcing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to bring her to Asgard before Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) captures her and uses the weapon to destroy the Nine Realms — including Earth.
Thor: The Dark World is a movie that has shades of fun thrown in here and shades that made it feel rather dull to even remember. There are some elements that are improved much more than last time. For instance, I appreciated how there’s more time dedicated in Asgard because a majority of the first installment was on Earth where Thor didn’t have his powers and has to learn a lesson. This lets you know it won’t be a problem this time since you get a lot of action in Asgard and different places in the universe to please everybody. This phase explores more of the sci-fi/ fantasy realm with what’s to come in a grounded fashion later on. As they attached director Alan Taylor to take over for Kenneth Branagh, he might be a good eye for depicting fantasy worlds since he directed several Game of Thrones episodes. He’s able to make everything in this world beautiful-looking. That said, Taylor’s direction in keeping the tradition of making the sequel darker felt like an elective class that sounds interesting on paper only to find out it’s not as exciting as you wanted it to be, just waiting to get excellent.
I’ve always thought of this as a movie in the way it was executed now was the only to pave towards the next Avengers sequel to further along. The plot is more cookie-cutter superhero fluff to pass the time that doesn’t require detailed depth or have many moments of amazement on-screen. When it’s there, it gives the movie the needed energy, but the rest feels tiring, and that shouldn’t be the case for a film featuring Thor. I don’t know if it was a rushed production process to put this out two years after the first, but I sensed a lack of attachment over a few elements, or it didn’t have me that interested in a more predictable film than before.
Chris Hemsworth puts on the armor and carries the mighty hammer for the third time now, and he still elevates his performances to have us know he doesn’t need the other Avengers to tag along with on his latest adventure yet. Thor might not be the first character to think of for reliability in this world and being a god to protect everyone. Still, his embodiment of him stays true despite this not furthering the character as much. Natalie Portman returns to give an acceptable performance as Jane Foster. But, unfortunately, while I didn’t mind the chemistry between her character and Thor from their last interaction, they didn’t care for their romance here. This made me question why the script needed Jane to return besides serving as the plot’s damsel.
But if everybody loves one character in the movie, that’s the scene-stealer, that’s Loki. They knew we loved him from the other appearances, especially after reigning chaos in The Avengers, thinking he’s in the right to achieve greatness. I really wanted more of him since the first half has him imprisoned, but Tom Hiddleston’s performance still makes us believe he’s impossible to know if he’ll betray those around him. Once Thor had to team up with his adopted brother, those brotherly moments for a little vengeance are genuinely great since both actors work so well together. When reshoots occurred, more scenes of Loki were added, even changing the ending not to have him killed off.
But by far the biggest problem with the film is, unfortunately, the villain Malekith. From seeing this in theaters to even now, I still consider him the worst villain inside the MCU because as much as we usually know the franchise for its lackluster bad guys, this is a prime example. All he’s made out to be is a generic, one-dimensional Dark Elf who wants control of the Aether and covers the world in darkness. Never once did I find him to have a real threatening presence for our hero. Interestingly enough, they offered Mads Mikkelsen the part first, but he starred in the Hannibal TV series instead. Honestly, I found Loki to be eviler than him or his lieutenant Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) since he was more involved with the action when he literally turned into beast mode. Christopher Eccleston has since expressed his disappointment with his role, saying they cut many of his character’s backstory out of the finished film. Just seems like he was taking a paycheck with this and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
With the rest of the supporting cast, they were again suitable for the material they were working from. From Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Idris Elba making Heimdall more of a badass this time, Jaimie Alexander, who I’d love to more of as Sif, and Rene Russo got a bit more to do as Queen Frigga. The other aspect I couldn’t stand was the humor. This might’ve been the first MCU movie where I noticed the comedy falling flat, and a large chunk of the comic relief comes from Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis. I like Dennings. As Darcy, she was annoying throughout and I was waiting for the Earth scenes to be done because there was no need for her, especially with her and her intern Ian (Jonathan Howard). However, I thought there were a couple of chuckle-worthy moments, including one of my favorite Marvel cameos.
The action sequences are well-directed and more vastly different from the original, especially since we see more of Thor kicking ass and the visual effects hold up nine years later. Were the stakes high? Not really. They didn’t blow me away. The climax made it cool, involving portals around vast universes and Greenwich that’s pretty creative, but you aren’t caring about the fight with Thor and Malekith when the outcome is already known.
Of all the movies to have come out in the saga, Thor: The Dark World is usually placed near the bottom of every Marvel ranking, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The mixed to positive reception didn’t affect the box office ($206.3 Million domestic/ $644.7 million worldwide), yet it currently sits at 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, the second lowest-rated MCU film. The most interesting tidbit was that Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins was attached to direct at one point, with a Romeo & Juliet-inspired plot in mind. She left due to “creative differences,” and Portman stayed on despite joining the project because of Jenkins’ involvement. In another universe, I would’ve loved to see her movie. But besides Hemsworth recently said to Vanity Fair that it disappointed him how he thought he didn’t grow with the character, Taylor was disappointed with the finished film and blamed Marvel for changes he didn’t like. He said there’s a director’s cut out there, but nobody cares at this point.
Thor: The Dark World improves some ways over its predecessor, as talking about the action and performances of Hemsworth and Hiddleston once again being the standouts. However, it serves only as a forgettable sequel thanks to being a low-stakes adventure and a bland villain to care little. Easily the weakest entry in the MCU.
Thor: The Dark World was released in theaters on November 8, 2013, and is currently streaming on Disney+. Runtime: 112 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content. Studio: Marvel Studios.