At this point, the spectacle is expected. Every explosion, every acrobatic feat, every cataclysmic impact of an energy blast or a Hulk smash or a hammer blow– it’s all part and parcel of the Marvel moviegoing experience. The action can seem a bit routine now; what, are you going to top The Avengers? Please. That’s why you can feel each of the individual-hero movies drifting in different directions than their predecessors. Iron Man 3 started it with Shane Black’s irreverent take on Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit posse. Captain America: The Winter Soldier appears to be going for the ‘70s spy flick vibe. And Thor: The Dark World? Well, if the original Thor was Kenneth Branagh doing Marvel comics as Shakespeare tragicomedy, The Dark World is Alan Taylor doing Game of Thrones.
This is appropriate, for two reasons: one, Taylor has directed and/or produced some of the most loved GoT episodes; and two, Thor’s world of Asgard and its surrounding realms are as rich and complex as Westeros and its surrounding continents. The Dark World shows us far more of Asgard than the previous movie, which provides welcome context to the conflict that must befall Thor in this installment. The stakes are higher, as creatures called the Dark Elves attack Asgard and attempt to restore all the realms, including the entire planet of Earth, to pure darkness. (Who knew elves could be so creepy? Or such vague, uninteresting villains? Not me.) The last movie basically only threatened a small town in New Mexico. The acting is just as fun as the last movie; Chris Hemsworth continues to be a solid Thor, and Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hiddleston both chew the scenery quite nicely to comedic effect.
I thoroughly enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, probably even more than the first one. There’s more going on, and everything feels more significant. The action is more exciting, and Thor’s relationships are more resonant . However, I’m disappointed with how they’ve handled Natalie Portman’s character, Dr. Jane Foster. She and Hemsworth have great chemistry, but Portman is such a strong actress that she should be doing more than having great chemistry with a male lead. She’s mostly asked to be a damsel in distress. The rest of Thor and the Marvel universe is so diverse and complicated, I think they could afford to make Dr. Foster more inspired.