Thor: The Dark World

Directed By: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, and Rene Russo

"Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing.  They're wrong.  There was darkness...and it has survived."
-Odin (Anthony Hopkins)

Of all the movies I've seen, The Avengers is the only movie with four direct sequels.  We had Tony Stark back in action with Iron Man 3 earlier this year.  We have the Mighty Avenger once again wielding his hammer with Thor: The Dark World this weekend.  The First Avenger will be picking up his shield in Captain America: Winter Soldier next year.  Finally, it will culminate with the second major comic book crossover in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It's quite an impressive feat for a single film to have this many direct sequels.  Strangely enough though, that's not enough for me.  Why can't Hulk have his own solo outing too?  The big green rage machine deserves it.  As it stands, we've got his sparring partner Thor on screen this weekend in his second solo outing.

Every 5,000 years, the Nine Realms converge, and the borders between worlds are blurred.  Before the universe, there were the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim.  Ages ago, they returned to destroy the universe during the Convergence with the Infinity Stone known as the Aether.  At this time, Odin's father Bor led an army of Asgardians to stop the Dark Elves and their enhanced warriors known as the Kursed and destroy the Aether.  The Asgardians were able to defeat the vast majority of the Dark Elves.  Unable to destroy the Aether, however, they hide it in a stone column in a dark world.  Unbeknownst to Bor, the Dark Elves' leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) escapes into suspended animation in the present.  In the current day, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) discover a factory in London where the laws of physics and gravity are being defied.  Exploring the area, Jane wanders through a vortex to another realm where the Aether enters her, which awakens Malekith.

In the aftermath of Loki's attacks on Earth, chaos has broken out throughout the Nine Realms.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the one tasked with cleaning things up.  After battling vigorously alongside Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) to restore order to Vanaheim and the universe, Thor returns to Asgard but does not revel in the merriment of victory.  Instead, he broods and keeps a watchful eye over his human love Jane.  One evening, Heimdall (Idris Elba) alerts Thor that Jane is no longer on Earth.  Shortly thereafter, Jane walks through the vortex back to the factory in London.  Nonetheless, the Mighty Avenger makes his way to Earth to check on his love.  There, he discovers that some dark, mysterious energy has infected her.  With that in mind, Thor takes Jane back to Asgard to get treated by Asgardian doctors.  Meanwhile, an imprisoned Loki (Tom Hiddleston) serves as a thorn in the side of Thor's parents Odin and Frigga (Rene Russo) and gets a front row seat to Malekith's reemergence into the universe in search of Jane and the Aether.

Of the Avengers, Thor has always been the most difficult to bring to life on the big screen.  He's not of our world and there's a whole lot more fantastical storytelling to be done when it comes to our Asgardian friend because of this.  That being said, Thor: The Dark World is a solid entry in the superhero franchise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Given that Kenneth Branagh did the bulk of the heavy lifting with regard to storytelling in the first Thor, director Alan Taylor is able to get down to business in Thor's second solo outing.  The only backstory he needs to provide is the history of Malekith and the Dark Elves.  This time around, Thor: The Dark World moves a little more efficiently and stands a little taller than its 2011 predecessor.

Like any Marvel film, Thor: The Dark World has great production value.  With a $170 million price tag, this should come as no terrible shock.  In this follow-up to The Avengers, we are treated to some dazzling visuals of the Nine Realms and the Convergence throughout the film.  In particular, Asgard looks quite breathtaking on film.  We get a front row seat for some outstanding action sequences that will keep moviegoers at the edge of their seats.  Thor thunderously wields his hammer as expected throughout the movie, but Malekith and his Kursed warriors bring a new level of badassery to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Finally, we have a bombastic score from Brian Tyler that really hits the right notes. Tyler elevates the film to a grander level and makes the film that much more enjoyable.

Thor: The Dark World may have a more robust cast than any other Marvel film to date.  Despite the fact that we have no other Avengers and that S.H.I.E.L.D. is noticeably absent throughout the movie, this Thor flick boasts a rather large ensemble.  We have Chris Hemsworth back in action as the likable brute Thor.  Showing some character progression and growth, Hemsworth gives us a slightly more nuanced interpretation of the one-time Asgardian brute.  As Thor's romantic interest Jane Foster, Natalie Portman returns to the big screen for the first time in two and a half years.  The Oscar-winning actress mails in her performance, but that's sufficient for a Marvel film of this nature.  As the All-Father Odin, thespian Anthony Hopkins has more screen time this time around.  It's quite interesting to see how his character has a moral downfall as disaster looms.  In the film, we also see Rene Russo and Jaimie Alexander stepping up to elevated roles.

The standouts amongst this robust cast are those who are either antagonizing Thor or making moviegoers laugh.  It should come as no shock that Tom Hiddleston does both.  Reprising his role as Thor's slippery brother Loki, Hiddleston's performance stands above the rest.  He's just so deliciously evil and menacing as this rich, hilarious character.  With three appearances in Marvel films, we still can't get enough of him.  As the film's primary antagonist Malekith, Christopher Eccleston does a great job as well.  He is pure evil and brings a dark presence to the screen like no other.  There's a cold fury in his eyes that's undeniable.  Finally, we have Kat Dennings reprising her role as Darcy Lewis.  She brings her unique brand of comedy to the film and keeps the laughs coming.

Though Thor: The Dark World suffers from being a superhero version of Shakespeare in the Park, it's a consistently enjoyable film on the whole.  It's good to see the Mighty Avenger back in action as Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rages on.  It may not stand as the best Marvel film, but it stands as one entertaining popcorn flick.  Thor: The Dark World gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of rounds of beer with this one.  Don't miss the mid-credits and post-credits scenes giving clues of what's coming next with Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.