Since the first film, Loki has formed an alliance with aliens and invaded earth. The Asgardians have fixed the thing that lets them fly through space, which Thor has used to go to Earth and fight Loki. He has then returned to Asgard and fought a war either against or in defence of nine realms. They now have Loki prisoner, and a mysterious space thing of vague capabilities (*cough* it’s basically a red Tesseract) is found by Natalie Portman on earth. No sooner is Loki in prison than he’s out again. The reason for this Loki-Cokey is so he can team up with Thor to fight the dark elves, who are trying to find the powerful space thing.
Thor: The Dark World feels liberated by the fact it’s not simply a lead-in to The Avengers. Thor and Captain America both felt like films that had to happen to get to the ensemble movie, but with origins out the way we’re free to explore the rich, inter-dimensional world Thor inhabits. Loki’s role as main villain in The Avengers means this film ties in closely and feels relevant, without it feeling like tokenistic crossover material.
There is a slight problem in the form of Thor being massively outshone by Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and even Anthony Hopkins’ Odin to some extent. In the first film he had a better arc, whereas by now he’s essentially a widely respected good guy. Sort of like Nelson Mandela with a hammer. There’s nothing wrong with Chris Hemsworth’s performance, it’s just that there are more interesting characters in the film. It’s also fair to say Idris Elba has outgrown his small role as Asgard’s bouncer, but he’s welcome nonetheless, as is Chris O’Dowd in a small comedy role.
The plot is the same slightly convoluted nonsense we’ve come to expect from these films, but it’s not a problem. There are a good few twists to keep things interesting, and not the annoying Iron Man 3 kind. In fact, it avoids most of the sins of Iron Man 3: being boring, stupid, pointless and having a child. It’s also funny, and not in the Hercules in New York way of the first film. As parallel worlds align there’s some great spatio-temporal interference comedy, something that can be hard to get right.
Most importantly there’s plenty of decent action to get your teeth into. It still feels like something of a step down after The Avengers, but there’s a Thames-based action sequence that makes the one from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer look rubbish. Actually the one from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer looked rubbish anyway, but there you go.
Thor: The Dark World breathes hope into Marvel’s phase two after Iron Man 3, and suggests that there’s plenty of life left in the brand. It delivers what it sets out to and avoids any major pitfalls, which for a franchise now in its 8th instalment is an impressive feat.