Marvel have achieved incredible things with their ‘cinematic universe’, in terms of consistency, efficiency and sheer entertainment value, particularly with Joss Whedon’s spectacular team-up effort The Avengers which broke box office records and left many a fanboy’s mind suitably blown. This year’s Iron Man 3 allayed fears that solo outings would feel like small potatoes in the wake of that super collaboration and now it’s Thor’s turn to carry the franchise on his broad shoulders with his own sequel Thor: The Dark World.
Following up the events of both The Avengers and Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 origin story, The Dark World sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) back on his native Asgard, assuming his position as heir to the throne and leader of the Asgardian armies, while still pining for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the mortal he left on Earth two years ago.
They aren’t kept apart for too long in this one though. Jane is in London with snarky intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), investigating a bizarre scientific anomaly in a factory that brings her to the attention of the film’s big bad, a “dark elf” named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who carries an age old grudge against Asgard and is plotting his revenge. Enter Thor to come to the rescue of his lady love.
All the elements are there for a follow-up every bit as enjoyable as the first Thor, which saw Branagh and company deftly tread the line between skewering the inherently ridiculous subject matter without ever making fun of it. With Branagh gone, directing duty falls to regular Sopranos, Mad Men and Game of Thrones helmer Alan Taylor who does a good job of mixing elements from both fantasy and science fiction, like Malekith’s impressive spaceships ploughing through the Middle Earth-esque landscapes of Asgard.
However much like the first film, this one works best when it’s being funny but Taylor doesn’t have the same handle on the humour as Branagh did. There is comedy here but much of the film, the first half in particular, is weighted down by fantasy battles and portentous monologues about Malekith’s nefarious schemes.
Sadly it’s Malekith who represents the film’s weakest link. Despite paying lip service to him through a long-winded prologue, he spends most of the film in the periphery and never feels like a fully rounded character or a real threat to our heroes. Eccleston is effective enough but is given so little to do, it’s easy to forgive him for not leaving a lasting impression.
Malekith is largely sidelined in favour of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the MVP of not only the Thor films but the entire Marvel universe. Despite spending much of the film in a cage, the God of Mischief steals the show yet again, this time working alongside Thor to foil Malekith’s plans. His true allegiances are always in question and Hiddleston attacks the role with his trademark campy relish, this time with an extra layer of vulnerability. His chemistry with Hemsworth’s Thor is a highlight, their back-and-forth bickering lending the story some much needed humanity.
After the sluggish first half, The Dark World comes back to life for an impressive London-set climax. The action is an improvement on the first in the series, offering up bigger stakes and a larger scope but ultimately the film doesn’t match the fun factor of its predecessor. Taylor delivers a safe, middle-of-the-road effort that follows Marvel’s house style to the letter, keeping the franchise moving along steadily without really improving on it.
As ever, stick around for the end credits as there are two stingers, one coming mid-credits and one after the whole lot. The first one is worth seeing; the second is definitely not.