Much of Marvel’s plans for its phase-two movies hinged on the success of The Avengers and whether audiences would accept the nearly magical technology and aliens that were brought into a cinematic universe which, for all intents and purposes, began with Tony Stark in a flying metal suit. Following the return of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 last May, Thor: The Dark World is the first Marvel film after The Avengers to continue the heavy use of alien science and technology. Watching Thor: The Dark World, the movie is the clear successor to The Avengers in a way that Iron Man 3 was not.
Thor: The Dark World is a much better movie than its predecessor, Thor. It has accepted that, at its core, it is a science-fiction movie. The original movie, in 2011, was what could have been labeled high fantasy, with a mix of medieval fighting and a little magic (which is really just really advanced science — really). Even when Thor was banished to Earth, it never stopped being fantasy. It was out of place among the other movies Marvel had produced, which included Iron Man 2 and Captain America. Many critics and viewers disliked how much time was spent in Asgard, with its surreal shiny towers and ancient lifestyle. It was a little hard to believe that the Asgardians were a more advanced species in the same galaxy as the human race.
The sequel embraces the science fiction aspects of the story. Asgard has gun batteries and gun ships to defend itself and, while they don’t carry firearms, the Asgardian soldiers are no longer swinging around ancient weaponry. It is a nice touch seeing a shield act as an energy barrier and the swords seem like they were actually designed for cutting material that human-made bullets bounced off of during The Avengers. It also adds a touch of humour as Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) begins figuring out how Asgardian technology works — a Norse soulforge is really just a quantum field generator.
The additional benefit of the science fiction approach is that the movie never gets bogged down with the typical romantic elements that are prominent throughout the fantasy genre. Instead, Thor: The Dark World goes to much darker places than the original, both figuratively and literally.
While the first movie revolved around some angst and immature sibling rivalry, the sequel is a much darker, more mature movie. There are real consequences to the events that are happening and the characters experience loss.
No one is who they were in the original movie, or who they were in The Avengers. Thor is colder and less trusting, while his adopted brother, Loki, seems tired after the events of the previous two movies. Loki is as manipulative as ever, but he no longer resorts to the angry outbursts of the first movie. He’s a calmer and more complex character who is clearly hurting after being rejected by his own family and yet who still displays a boyish glee at being able to spend time with his brother even when neither trusts the other anymore.
One of the biggest complaints with the original movie was the almost absurdly hilarious romance between Jane Foster and Thor, who had an inexplicable, instantaneous and overwhelming attraction to one another. Fortunately, the sequel does away with this all together. It is established early on that they are in love and then the movie rarely touches on the matter again until the end. And it is much better for it.
The main downside to the movie is that, following in the footsteps of massively successful The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World tries to do too much. What could have been an interesting and entertaining exploration of these characters gets overshadowed by the sheer scale of events. It is not a throne or an entire planet that is at risk, but the fabric of reality and all of existence throughout the galaxy. The conflict with the villain Malekith becomes less personal and less interesting as a result.