In an effort to recreate their comic book universe on the big screen, Marvel Studios have really changed the way blockbuster films are made. Instead of making a film and waiting years before thinking about a sequel, they seemingly have movies in the pipeline up to a decade in advance (maybe). By having each of their individual characters like Iron Man and Captain America co-exist in the same world and timespan, movies like Thor: The Dark World seem less like individual films than episodes of a sprawling television series (albeit one with more explosions and intergalactic travel).
While that observation is in danger of being an insult, we really don’t mean it like that. The old criticism of sequels not working in isolation doesn’t really hold that much water any more. Almost everyone going to see Thor 2 will have caught up with all the other Marvel films already. In essence, people aren’t going to see a new movie; they’re going to see the next episode of a really expensive TV show.
So: Previously on Thor…
The brash and cocky Thunder God of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth) was sent to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as punishment for being a big dumb jock (essentially). In his absence, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) feels slighted by Odin’s refusal to make him king. He decided to live up to his reputation as the God of Mischief by mischievously putting his father in a coma and naughtily staging a coup. Meanwhile, having fallen in love with scientist Natalie Portman and learned a lesson about humility, Thor returned home and defeats his brother.
THEN… in Avengers Assemble, we discovered that Loki survived his defeat at the end of ‘Thor’ and managed to rope in a few thousand of his alien buddies to invade Earth. Thanks again to his brother and The Avengers, he was once again defeated, restoring the status quo.
That description was grossly simplified but that pretty much covers the story of those two films.
We’ve been trying to figure a way to easily explain the set-up of Thor: The Dark World and we’re running into some serious trouble. In the film’s prologue, Anthony Hopkins’ voice-over relates a story from the past in which Asgardians fought against a race of Dark Elves who…umm… developed dark matter as a weapon? Apparently they wanted to destroy some world so that they could… er… live in its ashes, perhaps?
But now, thousands of years later, all of the major worlds (including Earth) are coming into celestial alignment, which means that… uh… people are able to walk between worlds and the surviving dark elves can destroy all the planets in tandem so that the 15 surviving Dark Elves can live in their collective ashes. That sounds about right.
Most of the film clips along just fine with entirely decent, if functional action sequences. Problems arise when they ignore the elements that made the original Thor a lot of fun: namely seeing the big man act like a fish-out-of-water in small town America. Instead, most of the story takes place in Asgard, where every characters is just as haughty as he is.
Portman’s scientist character returns as the great love of Thor’s life. In fact, Thor’s only personal arc in film is to realise he can’t live without her. Having said that, we still didn’t feel much of any chemistry between the two. The characters say they love each other but at no point do we see why – beyond the fact that they’re both impossibly attractive.
On the good side, however, Marvel’s writers have stumbled upon on a goldmine with Hiddleston’s Loki. As he proven in his last two outings, he’s by far the most interesting villain of the franchise – a character with more than two dimensions whose intentions you can never truly measure. Every one of his scenes is a real highlight and Marvel surely know this. We’ll be quite surprised if he doesn’t gets his very own film before long.
As another entry in the anthology of Marvel stories, there’s nothing really wrong with Thor: The Dark World. But for its intergalactic scale and massive budget, there’s still something about it that seems incredibly small.
Perhaps this is best expressed by the grand finale: while the end of The Avengers saw an attack on Lower Manhattan by alien invaders, the only collateral damage done in Thor 2 is the destruction of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It’s a nice museum, but it’s hardly the same.
Thor: The Dark World is in cinemas now