Beginning with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel began laying down the foundation for their first phase of superhero films- with Phase 1 culminating in The Avengers (one of the most successful movies ever made). Phase 2 kicked off this summer with Iron Man 3 (my thoughts on this movie can be seen here) which has been hugely successful, confirming that Marvel (and Kevin Feige) have taken the right course in the development and release of their superhero properties. Thor: The Dark World is the second film in the Phase 2 releases (technically Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the second Phase 2 release, but as a TV show), whose character isn’t as well known, or universally loved, as Iron Man. Still, Thor (2011) was a surprise hit, thanks in part to sharp dialogue and engaging stars Liam Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. So it stands that Thor: The Dark World should follow suit, right? Well not exactly.
Thor: The Dark World is one of those movies that does such an excellent job at being mediocre. Coming in at 112 mins, Thor: The Dark World is the shortest of the Marvel movies to date, yet it still feels a little bloated. The wit and charismatic performances are still there, yet I left feeling something was lacking. I couldn’t help but put the blame largely on The Dark World’s villain, who barely plays a role within the film. Typically, superhero films are known for their villains- many times its the bad guy that overshadows the film as in the Joker in The Dark Knight or Magneto in X:Men. Marvel seemed to have grasped this, deciding to add more scenes featuring Loki in The Dark World. But let’s be honest, Loki isn’t really the antagonist in this film. As a fan favorite, it is nice to see him featured more in the film, but he isn’t the one driving the progression of the film. Instead we have Malekith, the Dark Elf who seeks an ancient weapon called the Aether in order to destroy the universe. Marvel, instead, seems to be using this film as a stepping stone to future films (if I had to guess, both Guardians of the Galaxy as well as The Avengers 2). That’s not to say that The Dark World is a total waste, but unfortunately it feels too much like a throwaway film.
Thor: The Dark World begins many thousands of years ago as Odin’s father, Bor, is fighting Malekith and his army as they try to use the Aether (a weird, gray looking fluid) to destroy the universe). After defeating Malekith’s army, Bor hides the Aether as it cannot itself be destroyed. Unfortunately, Malekith and some of his men are able to escape on their ship, entering into suspended animation until he can once again pursue the Aether. In the present, Jane spends her time waiting for Thor’s return. After discovering strange occurrences in London, Jane enters another dimension where she finds and releases the Aether which in turn inhabits her body. The release of the Aether awakens Malekith, who descends upon Asgard where Thor has taken Jane. Malekith is unsuccessful in retrieving the Aether and is soon overcome by Thor and the Asgardian army. Choosing to abandon his plan, Malekith flees, but not before he takes the life of Thor and Loki’s mother. Against the wishes of Odin, Thor leaves Asgard to pursue Malekith, taking Loki with him in a shaky alliance to seek revenge and defeat Malekith.
Thor: The Dark World is obviously more concerned with the Thor/Loki conflict and their love and hate relationship than the conflict between Malekith. This provides some of the more humorous scenes as well as emotional moments of the film. In fact, The Dark World’s only saving grace is these two characters, so charismatically played by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. Natalie Portman doesn’t really have much to do, as Jane’s character is more of a catalyst for the story. And as in the first film, Kat Dennings, Stellen Skarsgård, as well as Thor’s entourage of fighters mainly serve as comedic pieces. Thus Marvel wisely focused on only Thor and Loki, as they are the strongest and most likable characters. This doesn’t bode well for the Thor franchise, however, as two characters, no matter how likable, can’t carry a movie alone. Iron Man suffered from this as well; no matter how great Robert Downey Jr. is as Iron Man, without a good story and interesting characters (largely villains), in the end it’s just going to fall flat (as Iron Man 2 did and to some extent, Iron Man 3). I also believe this is why The Avengers was so successful. All the most interesting characters from Marvel’s isolated films in one big movie just worksh better. If Marvel could just improve the scripts for their standalone films, they could be really great.
Hemsworth and Hiddleston try their best, but in the end, their energetic performances can’t help raise the film out of mediocrity. Their are moments of entertainment and laughs, but once the film ends, you’re not left with much to chew on. Instead, I couldn’t help but wonder how good Thor: The Dark World could have been if Marvel would have focused more on the script and less on creating a film to set up the next Avengers film.