With The Dark World in its title, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that this second Thor film is, indeed, quite a bit darker than its predecessor. It's also grittier and more poignant than its predecessor.
At least for this film critic, Thor: The Dark World is also a better film.
Thor: The Dark World still suffers from some of the same issues that plagued the first film, such as the godawful chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth and the moments of distractingly cheesy special effects, but Alan Taylor has taken over the directorial reins for Kenneth Branagh with the result being a less poetic but far more invigorating superhero/action flick. While Portman's role has been beefed up quite a bit, it's less dependent on the doe-eyed silliness that made the first film downright painful in spots.
The film kicks off with an over-wrought prologue courtesy of Anthony Hopkins, waxingly far too eloquently about a world where the battle is between good and evil and the evil is personified by elves who are nothing like Will Ferrell. In this case, the Dark Elves are led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and are determined to destry the Nine Realms that Thor (Hemsworth) is sworn to protect. The opportunity to do so is rising again thanks to an alignment of the realms, Earth is one, and the availability of a source called Aether that will allow them to get there.
There is one problem, however, in that the aforementioned Aether has become settled within the personhood of Dr. Jane Foster (Portman), Thor's kinda sorta girlfriend and an astrophysicist who is spending all of her time these days researching these things.
I wonder how much that pays?
The key to the success of Thor: The Dark World exists in the precariously formed yet necessary relationship between Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). If you saw the first Thor, then you likely have already joined a good majority of the world in realizing that Hiddleston was the best thing in the film and the same remains true this time around. Hiddleston infuses Loki with undeniable badness yet such an emotionally appealing gravity that he truly is the bad guy you hate to love unless, of course, he becomes the good guy that you love to hate.
Or something along those lines.
While the film serves up an ample dose of Hiddleston as Loki, it's in his absence that the film most falters either under the weight of its self-reverence or simply because the other relationships simply aren't as believable. You may remember that Loki ended up locked up in Asgard's nether regions because of his attempts at enslaving Earth, but before all is said and done here Thor will need Loki and we'll get a chance to watch this awkward sibling dance reveal itself again.
Yes, it's true. Hemsworth has a much better chemistry with Hiddleston.
Thor: The Dark World also works much better when it's grounded on Earth and possesses a sort of Whedon-styled wit about itself that should reveal to those paying attention that Joss Whedon himself was called in for a round of rewrites that appears to have greatly benefited the film. Supporting players Kat Dennings and Jonathan Howard add some light fun to the proceedings, while Stellan Skarsgard is back once again.
While Thor: The Dark World is a darker film, it's also a film more grounded in emotion even amidst a serious amping up of the action that one might expect and hope for from a superhero film. The film is also, in reasonable doses, a more humorous film that seems to have learned at least a few lessons from the first film.
While it's still one of the lesser of the Marvel Universe films, Thor: The Dark World rests comfortable in that 10th realm we all know as popcorn universe.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic