The latest Marvel film pushes the boundaries of their growing universe, determined to turn mainstream cinema audiences into comic buffs.
NB: This review appeared originally at Behind the Panels. Visit there for full coverage of all things comic books and superhero films.
If Iron Man 3 was about escalating the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond even the dizzying heights of The Avengers, then Thor: The Dark World is about expanding that landscape. The original Thor was perhaps the most difficult sell of the first phase of the Marvel films, introducing us to something bigger than Earth-bound origin stories. In the wake of two of the biggest franchise films in the history of the medium, this sequel is burdened with a similar glorious purpose for the next wave.
Picking up several years after his first encounter with Earth, Asgardian hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is cleaning up the Nine Realms in the chaos that followed the destruction of the Bifröst. Meanwhile, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) pines for her godly love, and unwittingly stumbles upon an inter-dimensional link in London. As ancient foe Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves rise to destroy Asgard and beyond, Thor must turn to his nefarious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to help him defeat the accursed ones.
What is immediately evident in Thor: The Dark World is the sheer scale of the production. Taking the incredible comic book visions of everyone from writer Walt Simonson through to the current cosmic ballet of the Marvel Universe, the film series has finally reached a point where it can confidently mix in the rich and often convoluted details of the source material for a fully prepped and initiated movie audience. Director Alan Taylor uses his experience on television’s Game of Thrones to ground Asgard as a real place, albeit one filled with beings that have been around for several millennia, so that romance and familial bonds are just as integral as the universe shattering events around them.
Even with the seriously good special effects, in a film that bounces us around the majority of the Nine Realms, it’s the same ingredients as the first film that make this sequel a success. Humour is what made Norse gods palatable alongside machine men and gamma-radiated monsters, and if anything, Thor: The Dark World takes it up a notch. Much of this swirls around assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), but it’s wonderful to see Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) in a pantsless bit of insanity as well. For the non-action crowd, the romance between Thor and Jane is core to this outing, and even Hiddleston gets to be something more than the mischievous villain, auditioning for a potential buddy-cop film alongside Hemsworth. Eccleston is perhaps underused and mostly under make-up, but his understated performance gives us a convincingly villainous target for the heroes.
Given Thor’s penchant for swinging his hammer (“Mew-Mew!”), it’s the action that ties it all together. Even Rene Russo gets to kick some ass before the film is through. From fantasy-inspired battlefields to the streets of London, no stone is left uncrumbled, although some of the supporting warriors (including Jamie Alexander’s Sif and the Warriors Three of Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano and new addition Zachary Levi) are occasionally brushed aside in the melee.
Thor: The Dark World is a perfect example of the progression of a series. As the cinematic universe steers towards Guardians of the Galaxy, this film builds upon familiar elements while taking chances that quite literally shoots the franchise into the stars. As always, you would be very wise to stick around to the very end of the credits to see what’s coming up next. Following the philosophy of “go big or go home”, Marvel Studios have chosen the former and managed to pour the comic book source straight onto the screen.
Thor: The Dark World is released in Australia on 31 October 2013, and in the US on 8 November 2013, from Disney.