Review: 'Thor: The Dark World' - Sequel Is Vast Improvement Over Predecessor
'Thor: The Dark World' did an utter 180 from the utterly bland, lowest common denominator pandering of the original 'Thor' (2011). It booted two of the previous writers while restricting third writer, Don Payne, to story concept. For the sequel, 'Thor: The Dark World' pulled from the combined talents of Marvel cartoon writer Christopher Yost and the 'Captain America' writing staff, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. I'm impressed by Marvel's decision to focus on story and less on explosions. Did they hit it out of the ballpark? Surprisingly, yes.
'Thor: The Dark World' surrounds the Asgardian dark elves who battle for control of the mystical, all-powerful Aether substance. Although Asgard's guardians originally hid it within the earth's crust. Thor's piece, Jane (Natalie Portman), accidentally discovers and bonds with it while searching for other-worldly signatures similar to Thor. As the dark elves plot to re-gain the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to earth to rescue his lady love.
I am incredibly shocked that I enjoyed the film considering its predecessor. If you liked the mindless, frat boy fighting of 'Thor,' for continuity, 'The Dark World''s first half hour gives you exactly that. It briefly recaps what occurred in 'Thor' and 'The Avengers' while introducing the dark elves and re-introducing Thor's friends with a series of over-the-top fights. However, after the thirty-minute mark, that's when the true story begins. While Thor pandered to the lowest common denominator with incredibly broad humor, 'Thor: The Dark World' provides a smarter, more controlled script that improved the characters, provided strong writing, admitted the original script's weaknesses and built on the talents of its core cast.
Regarding character development, Thor's frat boy personae, Jane's bland personality and the utter interchangeability of Thor's friends all disappeared. Rather than rely on the natural abilities of Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård and Anthony Hopkins to bolster the movie, it provides a script equal to their talents. In 'The Dark World,' all the characters have maturity, reality and self-awareness. I no longer secretly wished Thor would drop Jane's wonder bread personality for her far more interesting assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings). Jane's character is no longer annoying and I ACTUALLY believed in her relationship with Thor this time. In 'Thor 1,' the writers tried to make a one night stand-style crush seem like an epic, star-crossing relationship. However, in 'Thor 2,' the connection is more believable and we actually SEE the underlying feelings.
The Thor in 'Dark World' is the Thor I grew up with - he's thoughtful, intelligent and self-aware. Sife's no longer the useless sorority girl hanging with the guys, but a competent warrior equal or above them in talent. Additionally, Thor's friends are no longer drunken douches and I can actually tell the difference between their personalities. Plus, they've upped the screen time for one of the bright spots in the original Thor - Idris Elba - while continuing the awesomeness of Kat Denning's Darcy and Stellan Skarsgård's Erik, while adding two new humorous British characters to the mix. Zachary Levi does a surprisingly good job as Fandral. It goes without saying Rene Russo's awesome. We see Frigga's utter awesomeness as a warrior. While Tom Hiddleston always chews up the screen, both Thor and The Avengers established Loki as a baddie through his power hungry aggression. However, 'Thor: The Dark World' shows Loki as the comics/Norse myths wrote him, as the god of tricks and disguises.
A lot of the script's strength emerges not merely from self-awareness but from unspoken glances that communicate feelings, assisted by the directing. I love the covert hints at the relationship between Thor and Sife that existed in the comics through Sife's quiet side glances. There's a clear marked difference between Thor's companions without any words. We see Hogun's loyalty to his people through his desire to remain at home. We see Fandral's a competent warrior yet utter lover through his advisory position at Odin's side and the placement of women beside him at evening banquets. The directing fills in the gaps that the script can't provide verbally, save through notes. The first script's weakness surrounded insisting Thor should be king because he's Thor, while overlooking Loki's clear capabilities. This script admits Loki would've made a better king in 'Thor 1,' while developing Thor's character so we see he would make the better king now. And, let me tell you, the script is funny. Not just in the 'King of Queens,' Doug falls on his face funny, but in every single possible way. Like 'The Avengers,' the humor is well-timed. It doesn't disrupt the action or detract from the drama; rather, it adds to it.
Honestly, I wish people would stop adding 3-D when it adds absolutely nothing, save give me an up close shot of Chris Hemsworth's abs. The opening fight scenes looked fairly toy-like. After the first thirty minutes, I didn't really notice the 3-D effects. However, the CGI beauty appeared in more understated scenes such as the forest ceiling of the Asgard library, the library's moving gold gilt books, the warrior pyres, the healers' energy, and the Aether effect surrounding Jane.
Overall, this film impressed me. If I hadn't had an interview scheduled with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (who plays one of the dark elf leaders) I probably would not have seen it. Because 'Thor,' 'Fantastic Four' and 'Iron Man 2' all emphasized huge explosions and thin plots, I assumed Marvel would go the way of the 'Transformers' series, building crappy films that would spend as much money as it made. Luckily, by bringing on proven Marvel writing talent, they re-affirm their commitment to quality films. While I still want my money back from the first 'Thor' (which I saw for free on Amazon Prime), 'Thor: The Dark World' was surprisingly and amazingly well done. As I left the theatre, one of the screening audience members called his friend and shouted "Dude, go see 'Thor.'" I wholeheartedly agree.