Thor: The Dark World is the second solo showcase for Marvel’s Thor character. The hammer-wielding superhero’s last appearance was in last year’s The Avengers, and this film seeks to maintain the momentum of commercially successful comic book films from the Disney-backed Marvel Studios. The film’s director, Alan Taylor (cable TV’s Game of Thrones) serves the proceedings well: the cinematography takes full advantage of widescreen-spectacle, and the presumed CGI used to enhance many of the vistas portrayed isn’t as intrusive as it could be. The Earth setting of London is more compelling than the first film’s fictional New Mexico hamlet, much of which gave off a paper-mâché vibe by its destruction-heavy climax.
All the first film’s principals return with sturdy performances. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor learned a lesson of humility in the first film; he must now grapple with his lingering feelings for mortal scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) while King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) prods him to consider an Asgardian wife. Thor’s conniving brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston) has been sent to the dungeons for his crimes (as documented in the first film and The Avengers.) Thor’s warrior companions Fandral, Volstagg, and Sif (Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, and Jaimie Alexander, respectively) are given a little more to do in this film, as well as Thor's mom Frigga (Rene Russo).
The main plot involves exiled Malekith (Christopher Eccleston aka Dr. Who circa 2005), who leads his race of Dark Elves in a plot to take over the nine realms of Norse myth, including Earth. The object of his disaffection is the Aether: a crimson gas embedded in stone that apparently holds vast cosmic power. Jane discovers the Aether and is infected by it, which alerts both the good and bad guys that something’s not right on Midgard (Asgard-speak for Earth). An invasion of Asgard by Malekith’s forces devastates the royal city (including the death of a supporting character) and sets into motion Thor’s grudging team-up with Loki to help stop Malekith’s plot.
An escape sequence involving Thor, Loki and Jane is highly impressive, giving showcase to Hiddelston’s gift at playing the perpetually-scheming god of mischief. The climax doesn’t short-shrift on action, though its world-jumping context is a little dizzying. The script treats the subject matter with an overall serious tone, but makes room for humor, especially involving the mortal supporting cast of Kat Dennings and Stellan Skaarsgard.
A post-denouement sequence hints at future developments in the Marvel saga. Thor’s longevity in myth (and in pop-commerce) will likely not wane in The Dark World.