While the first Thor – released in 2011 – was a suitable introduction to the Marvel Comics character Thor, it was also a fairly tepid approach to what is one of the more cosmic members of the Avengers team. Up until that point, moviegoers had been treated to a Marvel world that existed in a realm where most of the superheroes seemed plausible, if not completely believable. Iron Man was a guy rich enough to build himself a super suit, the Hulk a man who was caught on the wrong end of Gamma radiation, Captain America a super soldier, and so on. Thor, on the other hand, is the God of thunder, and literally occupies a completely different realm from those previously mentioned characters.
However, in trying to help create a through line between Thor and past Marvel films, the filmmakers decided to root the character’s struggles in very human terms. Thor’s journey isn’t about overcoming some type of cosmic foe, but in learning to accept his place in the universe – a place that just so happens to be on the throne of Asgard.
With Thor: The Dark World, however, director Alan Taylor takes a much more direct approach to the character, fully embracing what makes Thor stand out from all the other Marvel characters. Yes, The Avengers sufficiently set the world’s stage, giving moviegoers a better understanding of how these Marvel characters deal with otherworldly circumstances, but Thor: The Dark World takes it to an entirely different level.
Thor: The Dark World is part Lord of the Rings, part Star Wars, and completely unique from all the other Marvel films (so far). There are still familiar elements to the sequel, namely a tongue-in-cheek approach to comic relief, but the film’s exploration of the nine realms, cosmic villains and forces, and Thor as a character all help it stand out. That doesn’t mean the film as a whole is successful, but the way it sets out to differentiate itself deserves recognition, especially in the production design category. To be fair, the first Thor featured a beautiful rendering of Asgard, with the Bifrost Bridge standing out as a true accomplishment. But this version of Asgard, and the various other realms we encounter, feels much more alive and wonderfully detailed.
Similarly, the film’s action sequences utilize the cosmic nature of the source material to stunning effect, delivering set pieces that feel wholly original and inventive. The film’s final fight sequence in particular is playful yet impressive. And finally, what brings Thor: The Dark World all together is the character of Malekith, our villain. Malekith, unlike past Marvel villains, is a totally cosmic foe, with destructive goals and an otherworldly look. Unlike the brief appearances of the Frost Giants and the Destroyer in the first film, Malekith brings with him a calvary of dark elves that are just as exciting to watch on screen. And since Thor and his compatriots are godly in power, they can take on more enemies than in a normal fight scene, giving certain battles a scope that only the Avengers could match.
There are some flaws in Thor: The Dark World, namely a rushed pace that gives the film little time to breathe, but it’s hard not to admire what Marvel has accomplished here regardless. They’ve introduced a character whose origins, storylines, and villains are otherworldly, and embraced those elements to their fullest extent. It may have taken a billion dollar blockbuster with The Avengers to convince Marvel that those ideas could work, but it’s a good thing it did. Now, we have set the stage for Marvel films that will presumably explore broader ideas, concepts, and worlds. And that’s very exciting.