There are NO spoilers in this review for Thor: The Dark World. The only plot point mentioned is the identity of the villain, which is revealed in the opening of the movie. However, the end of Avengers is alluded to.
The original Thor movie was great fun. Asgard translated surprisingly well on screen and was the first real sign that a unified cinematic Marvel universe could actually work. The ancient magic of a mythical realm didn’t feel as goofy as expected when it was adapted as flashy alien technology, couple that with some strong characters and they nailed it. After the Avengers had such a focus on Loki, I wondered if The Dark World would actually end up feeling like the third Thor movie rather than the second.
Indeed as with Iron Man 3, The Dark World is very much a post-Avengers movie. The events in New York are referenced and even within the opening few scenes they address Loki’s fate. However the movie still completely stands on its own. If for some unfathomable reason you didn’t see Avengers, you can watch this without being completely lost, though I wouldn’t recommend it. The character dynamics build off of what we know and have seen previously. You would understand what was going on, but you’d be missing out.
Speaking of which, the character work here is exceptional. Thor and Loki are standout performances with some brilliant dialogue between the two. Tom Hiddleston really owns the role this time and exudes that confidence we saw in Avengers. In the original Thor, Loki came off as a little bit unsteady but all signs of that are gone. Meanwhile Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is still spot on. He’s a more mature person now after the events of the previous films but he’s still completely Thor.
Malekith the Dark Elf is the movie’s primary villain, played by Christopher Eccleston. He portrays the bleak and menacing character well, but his motivations are a little empty. It’s bizarre but as the primary villain he’s actually the weakest character of the cast. He works almost as an excuse to move the characters around and give them a motivation to interact, as a force himself he lacks the charisma of other villains from the recent Marvel movies and is rather forgettable. The action scenes that are created as a result of his interference are thrilling stuff, but as a character himself he’s rather one-note.
The human side-characters are all back, and as before provide some nice amusing moments. They especially excel at helping the movie from ever getting too grim as much of the comedy stems from their antics. The balance in tone works very well and gives the movie a sense of charm and warmth, in a way it’s what keeps things fun even when what’s happening may be catastrophic. The serious moments hit the right mark though and the movie knows when to just play things straight.
Aesthetically the alien architecture has been kicked up a notch. Before Asgard was slyly only shown either from afar or as wide spacious halls, it was rare we glimpsed anything more than that. This time we see much more of the city itself in its training halls and taverns. The city and its people feel much more alive. The Dark Elves also get their own flavour of architecture, their harsh black vessels are a strong contrast to the earthy tones of Asgard.
Of the original Marvel movies I found Thor used 3D the best. The gleaming towers of Asgard looked fantastic with the added depth. This time around the 3D still looks great. The only issue I found is the subtitles for the Dark Elves looked quite blurry and didn’t translate very well in 3D. As a side note I found it unusual the Dark Elves spoke a different language considering Asgardians were shown to be speaking English thousands of years ago. It seemed to raise more questions than it answered, even the frost giants of the first movie spoke in English. As a result the subtitled dialogue felt quite unnecessary.
Overall Thor: The Dark World is a great movie. Avengers raised the bar, and so far both Iron Man and Thor’s contributions have kept up. The action is exciting and all the returning characters are engaging. The pacing of the first act is just a little bit off, but the final two thirds of the movie are fantastic. But even when it’s at its worst this is still just a damn entertaining film.
I would recommend re-watching the original Thor film, and also Avengers, before going to see this though, as it’s very much Thor Part III. I must also mention there are two end credits scenes to the film, so be sure to stay until the end!