Aside from The Avengers, the biggest risk for Marvel in their cinematic endeavours was Thor. Basing a big budget action film around a character people aren't familiar with and hiring Shakespearean director Kenneth Branagh to direct was a huge risk. That risk paid off and created a great universe for the Marvel films to explore. Thor: The Dark World takes full advantage of this universe and as such creates a much more satisfying film than the first.
The plot of this film concerns the return of the Dark Elves, beings who existed before the universe was created who want to plunge the universe into perpetual darkness. To do this, they need a magical MacGuffin which just so happens to have been absorbed by Jane Foster. Because of this, Thor needs to go back to her to stop her dying as a result. However, since the only way to stop the Dark Elves is to go to their homeworld and no-one else knows the way, Thor has to turn to Loki for help. This plot of the film really allows the larger scale fantasy elements that were only glimpsed in Thor to come to the forefront which is the best way the series could have gone. We see multiple worlds, not just Earth and Asgard and this really helps to expand the Marvel universe. There are also a lot of great plot elements with Loki with Thor having to learn to trust Loki again after the events of The Avengers and the relationship between Loki, Odin and Frigga. There are some problems though, mainly with the fact that by the third act of the film, a lot of plot elements become really predictable which, although they don't ruin the film, do take it down a notch. A strength of this aspect though is the script which manages to convey some really powerful, dramatic moments, bringing in really interesting stuff about the mortality of the characters, alongside laugh-out-loud hilarious ones, which is a great feat considering the noted rewrites and reshoots of the film.
The big strength of the film though is the acting. Chris Hemsworth is great again as Thor, bringing in the regret over Loki, his love for Jane and his concern over what is happening, with him sharing great chemistry with Natalie Portman, who isn't really given as much to do as she was in the first film, although she still gives a great performance. Anthony Hopkins sells the fear of the Dark Elves and the desire to do anything he can to defeat them, even if it means the deaths of hundreds, whilst also showing some regret over having to send Loki to the dungeons. There are also some great comedic performances from Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings, with a decent bit of screen time going to Chris O'Dowd as well, which was really surprising. Plus, it's finally nice to see Rene Russo actually do something in this film as Frigga. However, some of the performances aren't as fully utilised as others. Idris Elba is just as awesome as ever as Heimdall but he's only on screen for 5 minutes, the same going to Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi and Tadanobu Asano as Lady Sif and the Warriors Three respectively. Christopher Eccleston also feels a bit underutilised as Malekith. Don't get me wrong, he's a great villain and it's funny to hear his trademark Mancunian accent come through, even when speaking Ancient Elvish, but the character is just a stereotypical one-note villain, with the same factor going to all the Dark Elves, the only one having much to do being Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim, who is a really threatening presence throughout the film. However, there is one person amongst the cast who really makes the film worth seeing and that's Tom Hiddleston. He's clearly having so much fun in the role, relishing the great lines and character traits he has, stealing every scene he's in. This is one of those times when actor and character are so perfectly matched that you can't see anyone else play him.
On a technical level the film really excels. Alan Taylor puts his experience from Game of Thrones, along with the greater budget, on full show. The multiple action scenes are incredibly well directed, making great use of CG and practical effects and taking full advantage of the different worlds, along with showing just how powerful a weapon Mjolnir is. The final action scene of the film is the big highlight, taking place in multiple dimensions and making great use of London's architecture, with the use of the London Underground providing one of the funniest moments in the film. This sense of scale is also applied to Asgard. In the first film, we only saw brief glimpses of Asgard but in this film, we see Asgard in all it's glory, really establishing it as the big fantasy world for Marvel with Taylor's direction really showing off everything he can of Asgard.
Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a really entertaining film. Whilst the weak villains and predictable plot elements prevent the film from being as good as The Avengers or Iron Man 3, the great performances, especially from Tom Hiddleston, funny script and really fun action scenes make the film a blast to watch.
My Rating: 4.5/5