Thor: The Dark World is an improvement on the first Thor movie in every way except one. The stakes are bigger, the pacing tighter, the action more creative, the comic relief funnier. Chris Hemsworth is still perfect as the God of Thunder (and yes, he has another shirtless scene), while Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to steal every scene he’s in (though he’s not in as many as his last Marvel movies). Though she doesn’t get to save the day like Pepper in Iron Man 3, Natalie Portman’s scientist Jane Foster grows to be one of the more distinct romantic interests in a superhero film. The new director, Alan Taylor, has less filmmaking experience than the previous Thor director Kenneth Branagh, but he’s directed episodes of many of TV’s most cinematic series (Game of Thrones being the obvious point of comparison here), and his confident visual work here improves upon Branagh’s garish shooting choices. The whole experience is a solid good time at the movies.
There’s one major issue that prevents it from being great, though: the villain. The area that was the first movie’s greatest strength is this one’s greatest weakness. Where Loki was a memorable foe at once sympathetic and diabolical, Malekith the Dark Elf is kind of just there. Beyond the amusement of a major motion picture saying the phrase “Dark Elves” in the first 20 seconds, Malekith’s never particularly interesting or entertaining. It really feels like a waste of Christopher Eccleston, a great character actor. Fortunately Loki’s still around to provide some more interesting conflict, though he’s not in full-on villain mode here. The unpredictability of his tricks and schemes should only make the character’s huge online fanbase even more obsessed (and I’m sure one comedic scene where he tests out various disguises for him and Thor was added purely for the sake of inspiring tumblr gifs and twisted fanfiction).
The family conflict here hints at Odin not being as great a king as once accepted. Between this and the trailer for the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it seems Marvel Studios is seizing on a theme of taking their idealistic heroes and confronting them with the disappointment of allies who fail to live up to their ideals, a more interesting route for drama than some comics’ and comic book movies’ tendencies to take the idealism completely out of their established heroes. Even when touching upon some more serious themes, Thor: The Dark World is quite lighthearted for a movie with such a title, allowing time for physics-warping whimsy reminiscent of Portal and The Animatrix and for Stellan Skarsgard’s scientist streaking through Stonehenge (try saying that one five times fast). Anyone who’s enjoyed the previous Marvel Studios movies should have fun here.
Also note that the 3D is completely useless, and be sure to stick through the credits for not one but two bonus scenes (one of which has me more excited than ever for next year’s bonkers-looking Guardians of the Galaxy).
Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes