Okay, I’m going to try to make this description as spoiler free as possible. Basically, Thor has been kept busy since the events of the first film and “Avengers Assembled” cleaning up the mess that his adoptive brother, Loki, has been stirring up with his ambitions of power. However, it’s a power from the dawn of the universe that is going to eclipse anything that Loki has managed, one that will bring Thor into contact with his mortal love, Jane Foster.
One of the risks that Marvel Studios face with their ever-expanding “Cinematic Universe” is a lack of fresh ideas to bring to the table and that was more of a risk with the “Thor” franchise than it’s siblings as it has less apparent potential for humour, as with the “Iron Man” franchise due to the performance of leading man Robert Downey Jr., or the “Captain America” franchise where there is a change of setting and politics from World War II to the more cynical 21st century. However, “The Dark World” manages to dodge this particular bullet in several ways.
Firstly, unlike the original film, we are more aware of the universe of the Nine Realms, which leads to less exposition than the previous film. That said, it has to explain, very swiftly, the plot concerning the Dark Elves and Malekith alongside the threat posed by the Aether and then drive the film onwards to the film proper. The story also manages to combine a new direction of the “Hero’s Journey” for Thor himself as he seeks to work out whether he wants his role as the “King in waiting” of Asgard rather than his lesson of humility from the first film, alongside the romantic element of his romantic entanglement with Jane, the threat posed by Malekith and the almost Shakespearean tale of a family where there is a son who is worthy of kinghood, but may not wish to take on the mantle, and a son who wants the throne too much but whose ambition is not the direction wished for by the father.
On the acting front, there is some addition of depth into the character roles. Chris Hemsworth proceeds further down his “Hero’s Journey” as the arrogance from the early part of the first film which was replaced with humility is replaced again with a man who has no aspirations for kinghood. He also gets to invest the role with more emotional depth – particularly when it comes to his personal mission for attempting to stop the plans of Malekith and his need to protect Jane.
Tom Hiddleston takes the character of Loki and manages to make him more of a slippery character to get your head round. You genuinely don’t know which side of the moral divide Loki is going to jump – whether he will betray Thor or whether he will be an effective ally for him. In addition to this, the character’s smooth nature and impish sense of humour manages to rub Thor up the wrong way on occasion, which leads to some fantastic banter between the pair which comes over as two convincingly squabbling siblings.
Natalie Portman has a role which has a tough transition to maintain as she moves from the woman who is in search for her soulmate, to the MacGuffin of the film as she becomes the host to the Aether weapon that the Dark Elves seek to possess, to a chief contributor to the film’s resolution. This is done pretty seamlessly and although there is an element of “damsel in distress”, she is not a simpering delicate flower either.
Christopher Eccleston adds sufficient menace and gravitas in the role of Malekith. He doesn’t get a great deal of lines in the film, as the main attention is held by the Asgardians and humans. That said, he does hold the viewer’s attention by backing up the villain’s role with physicality to match that of Hemsworth and the sheer presence of his role.
It’s pretty much as you were with the remainder of the cast with some expansion in the roles of Heimdall, as portrayed by Idris Elba (“Luther”), who manages to invest the role with a strength becoming the gatekeeper to the realm of Asgard but with a willingness to bend the rules to help Thor in his quest, and Kat Dennings who gets to demonstrate great quirky comedy chops in the role of Darcy, who now gets an intern of her own to follow her around despite her being Jane’s intern herself.
New prominent additions to the cast, beyond the Dark Elves, include Chris O’Dowd (from “The I.T. Crowd”) in the comedic role of Richard, Jane’s “make do” lunch date whilst she’s waiting for news on Thor, and Zachary Levi (“Chuck”, “Tangled”) who gets the chance to swash his buckle in the role of Fandral, a role previously portrayed by Joshua Dallas, and who Levi has admitted owes a comparison to his role as Flynn Rider from the aforementioned “Tangled”).
In addition to the main cast returnees, there is the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and a surprise cameo which will have have Marvel fanboys and fangirls punching the air.
If there is one area where I wish there was a more complete character development, it is in the role of Sif. Jaimie Alexander manages to start the character on a course where you could see her as a creditable rival for the love of Thor, but the feeling I had was that it was a missed opportunity or a pulled punch from the point of view of the script or editing, rather than in Ms. Alexander’s performance.
The cinematography and special effects of this film are, as in the case of the original film, jaw dropping, but the 3D technology is better used this time as you get a sense of depth and perspective from what you see on the screen, especially in the scene where Thor, Loki and Jane are chased through Asgard in a captured Dark Elf fighter craft.
It’s tough to do a review where I don’t want to give away spoilers, especially as I’m a bit of a geek myself and would be annoyed if there was too much given away, Suffice it to say, if Marvel continue to show the same care and attention to their main “Marvel Universe” brand alongside the “X-Men” franchise, currently produced by 20th Century Fox, and the world of “Spider-man”, produced through Sony, then I would have to say that DC have a real task on their hands in upping their game with the second “Man Of Steel” film due in 2015.