Another year, another installment in the huge Marvel movie universe. Far from just a series with a set of films, the Marvel movies are a multifaceted collection of stories and characters that are less a linear narrative and more a web of plot. Their interconnectedness gets more impressive with each passing film, as each installment hearkens back to past films and sets up new ones. Thor: The Dark World does a decent job of each, but the writing isn’t quite strong enough to rank among the best of Marvel.
Most of these movies need a MacGuffin, and this time it’s the Aether, a powerful cosmic substance that…does something. In the hands of evil elf Malekith, it is a weapon to corrupt the nine realms and return them to a time of darkness, as it was five thousand years ago when the realms last aligned. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has spent the time since The Avengers cleaning up the mess made by his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and restoring peace to the realms. However, with the alignment of the realms drawing closer and the Aether’s possession of Thor’s lover Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Malekith spies his chance to reclaim the substance and enact his master plan.
For such a dreary plot, The Dark World is surprisingly light and comedic. This stands as one of the funnier Marvel films, and far from giving it a tonal inconsistency, it works fairly well. At times, it does get a little too silly—Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig is a bit too weird with his psychotic break following the events of The Avengers causing him to run around naked, and by and large, however, the humor is quite sharp and it never really seems to intrude on the drama when it shouldn’t.
Tom Hiddleston, as expected, nails the character of Loki once again. The movie experiences a sharp uptick in energy whenever the God of Mischief appears onscreen, and Loki’s scenes are among the best of the film. Hiddleston is clearly having a blast playing the character, and the friction with his brother Thor remains some of the most compelling stuff in any of the Marvel films.
This is definitely one of the flashiest Marvel films. Each movie has had its own distinct feel and style, but director Alan Taylor takes his experience from television show Game of Thrones and gives The Dark World a nice, glossy feel. To boot, this sports some of the best action of the franchise. Barring The Avengers, this sequel has the biggest and most exciting action setpieces yet to grace the Marvel films. It hits hard, looks good, and has a great sense of scale, and the final action scene is completely awesome.
For all of its strengths, however, The Dark World remains one of the weaker Marvel films. Perhaps it’s the fact that it feels oddly disconnected from the franchise. With an evil elf poised to use an ancient substance to corrupt realms and more or less destroy the universe to return everything to darkness, why are the rest of the Avengers not involved? The fate of the universe is at stake, and there is hardly even a mention of the rest of the team, let alone any of their involvement in saving the day.
Additionally, The Dark World suffers from a boring first half as it tries to cram a great deal of exposition into a short amount of time. The result is a fairly clunky plot that coasts along purely on the energy of most of its characters. Malekith, with his ill-definied intentions, is a poor villain and does little except for proclaim the rise of the Dark World and stride around menacingly.
Thor: The Dark World is good fun as a standalone film, but it doesn’t quite rank as a great addition to the Marvel pantheon. This is a universe that has by now demanded solid installments that each advance the overarching plot. There is a very good mid-credits sequence that teases next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but apart from that there is nothing that enriches Thor as a character nor advances the plot of Asgard. It’s a good time at the movies and sports a tremendously exciting final act, but it fails to stack up to its brothers.