If I had to sum up Thor: The Dark World in a simple, buzzy sentence that would look great on a poster, then it would be "Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings."
The Thor movies are different from other superhero movies in that they aren't really superhero movies. This is classic mythology with a sci-fi twist. Never is this more evident than in the opening prologue. You see, once upon a time, the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim decided to destroy the universe. I'm not really sure why exactly, I can only assume because they're bad guys and destroying the universe is kind of what bad guys do. Luckily for future Starbucks customers everywhere (they even have branches in Vanaheimr), the Dark Elves were defeated by those regular defeaters of bad people, the Asgardians. Honestly, I think all the Asgardians did in ancient times was go around the Nine Realms and get into fights with all the other races.
Fast forward several thousands of years and Thor, god of thunder, son of Odin, one of Earth's mightiest heroes and beautiful Disney princess, is battling across the Nine Realms, cleaning up the mess caused by the actions of his scheming adopted brother, Loki, who has been locked up in the Asgard dungeon, denied his throne and that interview with Ellen he was so looking forward to. Luckily for the captive god of mischief, the ancient Asgardians did not do a better job of placing the Dark Elves' doomsday machine, the Aether, in a place where no one could ever find it, because Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love, has stumbled onto it and all hell is about to break loose.
The Dark World is a grander, more epic film than its predecessor. It is also a much funnier film. I laughed my ass off more times than I could count, none more so than when Thor had to jump on the Tube to get back to Greenwich in time for the final showdown. See, DC, this is where you went wrong with Man of Steel. And yet, at the same time it has a disappointingly familiar plot. Bad guys (Frost Giants/Dark Elves) want to get hold of a magical thingy (Casket of Ancient Winters/Aether) and do bad things. Loki gets mixed up in all this somehow and Thor saves day by smashing things with his mighty hammer (no snickering) all the while maintaining his gorgeous hair. The film's primary villain, Malekith the Accursed, is a fairly generic adversary. He wants to destroy the universe and that's about it. It's a bit of a thankless role and really a waste of an actor as good as Christopher Eccleston.
Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor steps in to replace Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair. With a new director comes a new look. Odin has been doing some redecorating since we last visited Asgard. The realm eternal is less shiny and gold. It now has a more textured and lived in look. It also feels more magical. This is how I imagine a city of Viking gods would look like. While Taylor does a good job with the film's other action set-pieces, the final confrontation in Greenwich does fall a little flat.
Chris Hemsworth is as likeable as ever, but Tom Hiddleston sneaks up behind him, ties his shoelaces together, and makes off with the film before the Aussie hunk has a chance to react. Loki is the undisputed star of the film. The film really steps up a gear whenever he and Thor are together. The troubled relationship between the sons of Odin is the only one in the film that has any kind of dramatic weight.
Sadly, the Thor/Jane relationship, which worked rather well in the first film, falls completely flat this time around, despite the best efforts of Hemsworth and Portman. The two characters actually work a lot better when they are apart. Foster is so much more fun when she's running around with Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Kat Dennings, effortlessly stealing every scene she's in as usual) and geeking out over science stuff.
Notes and Quotes
--Chuck's Zachary Levi replaces Once Upon a Time's Josh Dallas as Fandral, one of the Warriors Three. Not that you'd notice given how underused Sif and the Warriors Three are. Poor Hogun barely appears.
--The Kronan, the stone creature Thor fights at the start of the film, is an alien being that appeared in Thor's first comic, Journey Into Mystery #83.
--What's the best way to promote your blockbuster movie? Simple. Just put your charismatic villain with a bunch of kids and watch the magic happen:
Jane Foster: "I saw you with the Avengers in New York!"
Thor: "I was defending the Earth!"
Jane Foster: "Is that your excuse?"
Jane Foster: "...It's not terrible."
Darcy: "Look at you. Still all muscly and everything."
Thor: "Thank you."
Loki: "It's not that I don't love our little talks, it's just... I don't love them."
Three out of four interviews with Ellen.