With Marvel’s “The Avengers” currently ranking as the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time, it’s hard to believe that just five years ago, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were all considered B-list superheroes. Batman and Superman were arguably the most famous movie superheroes, and the planned Iron Man origin film was considered a gamble. Then, “Iron Man” became a surprise blockbuster in 2008, and the “Thor” and “Captain America” origin stories both topped the box office in 2011, despite being headed by relatively unknown actors.
So, what’s the secret to Marvel’s success? All the studio’s films have followed a finely-tuned, crowd-pleasing formula, and the studio has been smart enough to tweak but not deviate too far from this pattern. When you go see a Marvel movie in theaters, you know exactly what you’ll be getting: fun characters, good special effects, exciting action sequences, and a healthy dose of humor. While fans can debate which of the “Avengers” tie-in movies is actually the best (“Iron Man” is still my favorite), none of the films have failed to be entertaining.
“Thor: The Dark World” follows this pattern. Like “Iron Man 3,” which was released earlier this year, the Thor sequel is set after the events in “The Avengers.” Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned home to Asgard to try to repair the damage caused by his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). This time around, Thor faces a new foe, the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wants to release an ancient force known as “Aether” that has the power to plunge the universe into darkness. Thor must seek help from his estranged love interest, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as his brother Loki, even though he’s certain Loki will try to use the crisis to his own advantage.
Alan Taylor ― known for his work on the “Game of Thrones” series ― takes over the reins from Kenneth Branagh, who directed the first Thor film. Taylor gives the Thor sequel a fun and unique blend of science fiction and fantasy. At the beginning of the film there’s a battle that could fit in a “Lord of the Rings” film, and the costumes and Asgardian culture have a medieval influence. However, you also can see very futuristic spaceships darting through the skies, and there’s a great action sequence that features a fight between Thor and Malekith where the characters are jumping through portals between worlds almost faster than you can keep track.
The highlight of the film is ― unsurprisingly ― Loki, a character that quickly emerged as a fan favorite after the first Thor film. Tom Hiddleston is obviously having a great time playing the character, and his Loki is both devious and charming. You can’t quite trust him, but you can’t quite hate him, either. He has a lot of fun interacting with Chris Hemsworth, who lends a tough nobility to the character of Thor. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård provide some nice comic relief as Jane Foster’s intern Darcy and the scientist Erik Selvig, respectively.
There are places you could be picky in the film. Eccleston is underused as the Dark Elf Malekith, and it might have been nice to see the film makers dig a little deeper into who the character is and what his motivations are. Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster also isn’t given quite as much to do as she was in the first Thor film. Still, I had a lot of fun watching “The Dark World,” and I thought the film had a good blend of action and humor. There’s a great cameo from another “Avenger” character ― I won’t give away who it was, but I didn’t see it coming, and it was a clever surprise.
Marvel continues to turn out consistently fun, entertaining films, and I’m really looking forward to the next Captain America movie in spring 2014.