The Avengers have assembled and separated again.
Iron Man 3 has happened and acted as a sort of bookend for Avengers. And now Thor: The Dark World really kicks off the second phase of Marvels cinematic adventures.
And similarly to the original Thor it is the silver lining after the disappointing Iron Man 3 (a very similar situation to Thor following Iron Man 2) and probably the most entertaining Marvel studios film since Thor.
Insert hammer pun here!
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back and he is smashing with his hammer. And he is cleaning up the medieval/scifi realms which have been left in turmoil after the Bifröst (rainbow bridge) was destroyed in Thor. Little does he know that his sort-of girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has accidentally stumbled upon an ancient power which prompts the Dark Elves rise again. Led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) the Dark Elves want to bring darkness back into the universe and pretty much destroy everything.
In order to protect Jane Thor takes her to Asgard, something that doesn’t bode well with the all-father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thankfully the implied family drama and possible jealousy subplot featuring Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) from the trailers are just implied because the entire movie focuses on the threat by the Dark Elves. Additionally Natalie Portman’s character is much better integrated in this movie than she was in Thor.
When terror then strikes in Asgard Thor is forced to team up with his adopted brother/nemesis Loki.
The dramatic tension of the MCU
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has proven to be a commercial winning formula for Marvel. But for the drama of the story it is one of the biggest hurdles Thor: The Dark World fails to overcome. Because all of Marvel’s movies have to keep open the possibilities for other storylines no character can truly come to harm or be permanently changed. So any possibly suspenseful or unexpected event is undone minutes later – similarly to a certain moment in Iron Man 3.
On the plus side the MCU has previously shown what worked and so there are upsides like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki who just steals every scene he is in. Loki feels like the only real 3dimensional character with genuine emotions that aren’t just “evil”, “good”, “loyal”, “in love” or anything like that.
Thor and Loki just have this nice tragic connection and in a way the movie faces a similar dilemma as X-Men: First Class: the two leads are much more interesting than the bland main villain. The Dark Elves have no motivation other than moving the plot along and they aren’t particularly charismatic at that either.
Space Fantasy Medieval Lasers!
Thor: The Dark World goes completely bonkers as the makers realize that Asgard is very ill equipped for an alien civilization that travels between planets. Because with interplanetary travel comes interplanetary war and this time it’s the dark elves who have risen against the Asgardians.
Because of this the warriors of Thor still use medieval weapons but now they have added sparks and pretty much work like lightsabers. To fend of alien invasion ships Asgard now has anti-aerial laser defenses as well as shield generators. For a visual impression the best example would be the rendered intro for the Star Wars PC Game The Old Republic:
If you found this to be over the top, just wait until Thor: The Dark World.
Yet despite all this laser action, Thor and pals will will drink from a wooden cup and smash it to demand “another!”. Director Alan Taylor was brought on board and his Game of Thrones experience surely was the reason that he was hired away from the successful television show. The intimate scenes when Thor and his friends are discussing and drinking look like they could be from a Game of Thrones episode – which makes the sci fi aspect stand out even stronger.
And due to the fact that everything is already pretty nonsensical the plotdevice of this movie is called the Aether which unfolds its power when the worlds align in one line – yep, you read it! It is the story of Tomb Raider but planets have been replaced with whole realms of existence. That they happen to align in a way that earth once again takes the center stage is something that we have gotten used to at this point by Marvel’s movies.
And because the stakes aren’t high enough if only one world is threatened, this time the enemies will destroy everything at any place and time – forever. I can’t recall any comic book movie where the stakes have been that exorbitantly high and I am left to wonder what the threat will be in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Thor: The Dark World is a stupid, loud movie. With a climax that just defies any logic. But at that point you have either given into the ridiculousness or left the theater. Contrary to Iron Man 3 the setting invites all those crazy things and freaks don’t stand out like the fire demons in Iron Man 3. Still, logic is something that should clearly be checked at the door.
Marvel Studios movies have become the McDonald’s of superhero movies. They are very similar, not that surprising, deliver what they promise but one should never expect more than that.
Appendix: The After Credits Scene
As usually we get after credits scenes: two of them!
Now before you get excited here are the two “themes” so that I don’t spoil them:
The mid-credits scene is a comletely incomprehensible setup for a future Marvel movie which is only there to make the average moviegoer ask “huh?” and the comic fans analyse all the details in the background. It has no real merits but to confuse and tease and doesn’t really work as a scene.
The after credits scene is not the one that has been expected. What really annoyed me about that scene is that it is actually part of the main movie. It resolves a major tension that is teased at the end of the movie and should therefore be in the movie. In my opinion an after credits scene should be an extra, not something that you have to watch. It is a tease for the next movie or a nice funny gag. If you decide to leave a conflict open for future installments, that is ok but if you resolve this (major) conflict in an aftercredits scene people watching Thor 3 or Avengers 2 will have a legitimate question when this happened.
Sidenote: I was surprised that one of the funnier MCU cameos had not been spoiled – probably due to some good diverting tactic by Marvel which made everyone think that it would be an after credits scene.