There is a hard truth that must be accepted at this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is that unless you were there from the beginning, you have a whole lot of catching up to do if you hope to get as much out of this or any of Marvel's upcoming films. At this point, each Marvel film is barely a stand alone entry into the Marvel canon. They continue where the last film left off and lead directly into the next with no regard for those who may have missed a movie here or there.
It's not impossible to keep track of what is happening in the latest film in the MCU, Thor: The Dark World, but it's hard to imagine anyone fully enjoying it without knowing key details from the previous films. That is not a fault of this or any film in the MCU, it is a whole new way to approach a franchise and if Thor's latest adventure is anything to go by, they are doing just about everything right. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 Orange
Time: 11:00 pm, Nov. 7, 2013
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 52 min
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Loves: The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki
Likes: The original Thor film, Chris Hemsworth, Kat Dennings
What is an infinity stone?: You will likely find out in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been a busy little God ever since the events that took place in New York city. After repairing the Bifrost bridge and restoring order to the nine realms of Asgard, he must also contend with the treachery of his adopted Frost Giant brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Odin (Anthony Hopkins) subjects Loki to a quick trial which leaves him his own private cell for what appears to an eternity, but unbeknownst to the people of Asgard is an ancient evil in the form of the Dark Elf lord Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who has been awoken from his thousand year slumber when Jane (Natalie Portman) accidently stumbles into a portal that leads to the discovery of a power that threatens all lives across all the realms.
There is really a whole lot going on in Thor: The Dark World, so much in fact that at the films outset it is all a little daunting. There is just so much to catch up on since the last time we saw Thor, the nine realms, the bifrost bridge, Jane, Earth and Loki. Then in the midst of trying to set up all those dominoes we are also expected to digest a lengthy intro that feels as though it was ripped right out of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy where we learn of the Dark Elves, Odin's father, some sort of evil floating vapor called the Aether and the eradication of an entire race. That is all crammed into the first 15 to 20 minutes of the film and it can all be a little overwhelming, especially if you never saw the original Thor or The Avengers (which then makes it an impossible task).
But the film moves at such a brisk pace that after all that set up, it eventually finds its footing and everything begins to flow quite nicely. Just like the first film, things are split up between both Asgard and Earth, but this time the majority of the film takes place in Thor's hometown. Once again, the design and look of Asgard are striking with their ornate throwback style where it looks old but with a modern style to it all. Asgard was a highlight of the previous film and with this extended stay we finally get to see more of the beautiful city's inner workings.
Back on Earth meanwhile is focused squarely on Jane (while she is still there anyway), her assistant Darcy (the scene stealing witty wonder Kat Dennings) and Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the scientist that Loki used in the Avengers to create his doomsday device by controlling his mind (which has had some severely comical effects on him). While last time Jane and her team of rogue scientists were more or less watching from the sidelines, they get a much more active role this time around.
As does Jane herself, who despite being thrust into the mix by pure circumstance, proves herself to be more than useful on more than one occassion. Even Darcy has more to do than just tazer Thor multiple times and make sarcastic comments on everything (the reprisal of her pronounciation for Thor's hammer Mjolnir as "Mu Mu" is still as adorable as ever). Likewise for Thor's entourage back in Asgard, where as before they proved seemingly useless when the time came for them to act, here they prove useful in a number or ways. Although, Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) gets a rather unexplained and unfinished story arc with her jealously towards Thor's affections for Jane.
Then there is the royal family, Thor, Odin, Loki and Frigga (Rene Russo) who are at the core of what the film is ultimately about. Continuing the story arc for Loki which began so many years ago and has carried on through three films now, this is quite possibly the strongest story arc of the entire current MCU. Their family dynamic is impossibly rich and Loki represents one of the best current villains in the MCU (that is until Thanos appears next year in Guardians of the Galaxy).
The best character moments in the film are without a doubt whenever Thor and Loki are on screen together. Seeing them forced to work together for a common goal and how Loki's constant threat of treachery lingers in the foreground make for an intensely rewarding bit of mental chess between the two God-born brothers. What makes their constant arguments and "disagreements" so darn fascinating is that like any good villain, Loki has a legitimate gripe and Thor can't disagree with the man. Suffice it to say that if you liked Loki in the previous two films he appeared in, you will absolutely love him here.
Alas, some things are not perfect with Thor's new film. The god of thunder is given a new villain to deal with on top of trying to handle Loki. Malekith, the Dark Elf leader is supposed to be our central antogonist and instead he feels almost like an afterthought when compared to the awesomeness that is Loki. He has an army of
The real problem is Malekith though, he's just boring. He is evil because he just is, which is not only lazy but incredibly pointless when you put him in a film that already has an awesome villain. We never know his motivations, he barely has any screen time with Thor aside from the finale and the way Eccleston plays him is just really bland. Thankfully someone realized this during the pre-production process and rightfully placed Loki front and center as the true villain of the film.
Despite Malekith's lack of personality though, one of the best sequences in the film is his final showdown with Thor. At first, it looks to be your usual I-hit-you-hard-then-you-hit-me-harder squabble, but there are some really inventive bits of action that happen which were just simply thrilling and executed brilliantly. Some of the gags (such as Thor losing his hammer) are just priceless and how the battle starts out mono y mono and quickly sprials out of control to become this epic battle of immense proportions was just mind blowing (and probably an editors nightmare).
This could be one of the best finales for any of the Marvel films to date and ultimatley one of the most consitent story threads in the MCU. The original film was great for what it was, introducing Thor, setting up S.H.I.E.L.D. and leading into the Avengers, but The Dark World is just an all around better constructed film from top to bottom. If you have been watching all the Marvel movies up til now, then there is now reason to stop now and Thor's sequel doesn't give you indication that you should stop seeing them any time soon. If you were a fan of Thor's previous adventures, chances are that you will love this, warts and all.
Thor's latest adventure not only surpasses this past summer's extremely disappointing MCU entry, Iron Man 3, but it also helps establish the Thor film franchise as one of the more consistently reliable sources for everything that is Marvel. It may feature space ships, laser guns and other fantasy/Sci-fi elements that are different from the more Earthbound exploits of the other super heroes. But that is what we love about Thor's films, they are different enough to stand on their own and still offer up some good old fashioned comic book action.