If there was much that was disappointing about Marvel’s 2011 movie Thor, it was that so much of the grand story was wasted on Earth. The fish-out-of-water scenes of the exiled alien Thor (Chris Hemsworth) adjusting to life in New Mexico were amusing, but the best parts of the movie involved the gorgeously realized Asgard and the almost-Shakespearean family drama.
After trying to take over Asgard in Thor and Earth in The Avengers, Thor’s Machiavellian brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) this time takes a backseat to another villain: Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith, a dark elf who is out to destroy the universe because… well, that’s what supervillains just have to do.
The confusing plot also involves a MacGuffin called the Aether that’s basically the essence of darkness and would allow Malekith to destroy the Nine Realms (which include Asgard and Earth). Thor decides he can’t defeat Malekith alone, so he frees his recently imprisoned brother to acquire his help.
Since Natalie Portman was in the original, her character of Jane Foster has been awkwardly shoehorned into the sequel, as well. Through convoluted turns of the plot, Foster finds herself infected with the Aether, which awakens the long-thought-dead Malekith and gives the movie a reason to bring Foster to Asgard, where she stops serving any real function.
Once Thor releases Loki, the movie finds its footing. Being freed from the shackles of having to play the villain, the character of Loki is even more amusing. As the wild card of the plot, you can never tell what his true intentions are, which helps make his character so interesting. Hiddleston plays him with a gleefully sardonic smirk, clearly relishing the opportunity to play up the mischievous side of the god of mischief.
Asgard feels more real here than it did in Thor, no doubt partially due to director Alan Taylor’s experience helming HBO’s Game of Thrones. The movie walks a fascinating line between science-fiction and fantasy that feels quite fresh, deftly weaving a story of aliens and Norse mythology.
Thor: The Dark World is almost as good as the first Thor. While some aspects don’t work quite as well as in the original, others work even better this time around. Marvel has figured out the perfect uses of both Thor and Loki in the series. Now if they just give Foster some actual responsibility in Thor 3, these may just outdo the Iron Man trilogy.