Marvel Cinematic Universe shines anew in Thor: The Dark World [spoiler-free]

Thor: The Dark World opens on 30 October in cinemas nationwide.

Thor: The Dark World opens on 30 October in cinemas nationwide.

Sometimes it’s better to defy gravity.

Tasked with weaving the successes of the Iron Man movies into a cohesive Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first Thor movie was weighed down by world-building. The attempt to establish a connection between the realistically-portrayed Iron Man milieu with the more fantastic realm of Thor was superfluous at best, with token science-speak and the continuing cameo of Agent Coulson. The movie also labored under the seriousness of its treatment. When Asgardian power struggles play out as Shakespearean drama, the hero’s meet-cute scenes on Midgard must necessarily be measured against the yardstick of the Bard’s comedy. Chris Hemsworth acquitted himself well enough with the material given him, but the better stage actor shines. The gravitas of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki turned him into an iconic big bad, which worked out for The Avengers movie, but it’s a little off-putting to have a villain that’s more sympathetic and entertaining than the hero.

Unburdened, as it were, by this glorious purpose, Thor: The Dark World is a much more relaxed sequel, and is all the better for it.

The setting is unquestionably post-Avengers, with Loki being sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment and Thor entrapped by his role as prince-protector of the nine realms. Peace reigns, but all is not well, as the cold open narration informs the audience that war, even one waged thousands of years ago, has latent consequences. All it needs is the proper catalyst: the convergence of realms, and the awakening of a new (old) big bad, Malekith the Accursed, played by Christopher Eccleston.

Eccleston’s minimal exposure in the trailers and previews was troubling, but was in all likelihood caused by slower post-production schedules and not because Malekith was underutilized— an iilluminated sequence rendered in 3D is absolutely stunning. And yes, Eccleston’s screen presence more than holds his own against the combined might of Asgardian and Midgardian star power. Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings reprise their role as Jane Foster and her science brigade, while Zachary Levi (Fandral) joins Rene Russo (Frigga) and Sir Anthony Hopkins (Odin) in Valhalla.

As expected, Malekith’s attack opens up an opportunity for drama, but surprisingly, successfully steers the movie in the direction of a heist comedy (think Ocean’s Eleven in Asgard). This gives more screentime to Thor’s peers, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, and displays the cutting chemistry between Thor and Loki. Oh yes, Jane was there, too. Portman and Hemsworth act better together in this movie, but Jane Foster’s character works best when bantering with her mentor Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) and intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings, who brings her scene stealing powers to the sequel). Good thing the plot requires the constant shift between realms, the portal transitions—and there were lots—seamlessly handled by director Alan Taylor.

Cameos and continuity is now par for the course for every Marvel Studios movie, and even before watching the movie, fans are likely guessing which character is going to show up. (They’re probably correct, but wait, there’s more). Another interesting game to play is figuring whether new scenes made the final cut—Hiddleston and Dennings were known to shoot additional footage—and what this could mean for the franchise.