After Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine, I was half expecting Thor: The Dark World to be yet another disappointing Marvel outing. The first Thor film was nothing mind-blowing but it was solid enough and it brought to the screen the story of one of the most out-there Avengers about as convincingly as it could have possibly been done.
But in a world post-The Avengers, what is Thor to do?
Well, a heck of a lot, as it turns out.
If you thought the first film was rather bare plot-wise, which it was, you'll be happy to find that Thor: The Dark World is rich with things happening. They may not all make sense or work, but things are happening this time around. Less time is spent on Earth, definitely a good thing, and the film does a far better job at making sense with The Avengers than Iron Man 3 did. Unfortunately, Earth-wise, we leave the desert of New Mexico for the greyness of Greenwich, England. Why are the Thor movies given all the least impressive locations? Seems a bit unfair, really. But at least there's Asgard, which still looks pretty great and finally houses some action.
The plot, this time, sees some Dark Elves come back for some powerful force called the Aether which Natalie Portman's Jane Foster stumbled upon through a very literal plot hole. It's a typical comic book movie template premise and the exact same kind of doomsday machine plot we've seen about a hundred times in that many movies over the past few years. The main villain, Malekith (an unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston), is a missed opportunity in that he really has no personality and nothing all that unique to bring to the table: he's just another ugly dude wanting to take over/destroy the world. Luckily, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back into the plot and proves to be a far more entertaining villainous presence, even if the character is honestly starting to overstay its welcome.
Chris Hemsworth is, of course, back as Thor and does a decent job, as always, while Anthony Hopkins is once again awesome as Odin. No one does angry-bearded-space-dude better, I guarantee it. Oh, also look out for a really fun little cameo from a familiar face. Thor: The Dark World works well both as a sequel to Thor and to The Avengers in that it feels like a follow-up to both without being too Avengery plus it teases us about Guardians Of The Galaxy. As you can see, the film's very busy, which is why poor old Thor doesn't get much character development except that, by the end, he's not all that concerned about being king of Asgard anymore. Side characters are given much more screen time and that's both terrific (Rene Russo proves to be a real badass as Thor's mother) and irritating (Jane Foster is still super annoying).
Whenever we cut back to Earth or spend any time with Jane Foster, the tone of the film gets all jokey, Whedon-esque and heavy-handed. Kat Dennings' Darcy is admittedly adorable but she is given so many one-liners that it gets a bit too much by the end of the film. Several characters are given exclusively "funny" things to say and, more often than not, it's eye-rollingly corny stuff like Jane Foster being all nervous around Thor's mum, Darcy getting some random British dude as an intern or Stellan Skarsgard losing his mind for some poorly explained reason. All that makes the first half of the film a bit of a chore to sit through but thankfully things do pick up eventually.
Thor: The Dark World may be on a par with the first Thor film (just about) and may be a mildly better sequel than Iron Man 3 but it's still a slight effort from Marvel. Barring some great-looking action sequences, genuinely moving moments and fun performances, this is a plot-hole-filled, familiar, predictable and underwhelming effort.
Flawed yet entertaining.