Thor: The Dark World (2013)
So I admit from the get-go that I know next to nothing about the original stories any of these movies are based upon. Whenever I get curious, even with something like Watchmen, largely what I see is people in ridiculous Spandex costumes running through the same adolescent plots. Despite the fact that there are definitely too many of these movies at this point, the one thing I can say is at least they have found a way to make them more interesting to the general public. Lack of doing so was what made such movies largely unprofitable (except for a few Superman and Batman films) up until recently.
That said, there is definitely varying quality between the films. I found Thor to be pretty to look at, but largely forgettable. I often compare it to putting actors in a video game. Chris Hemsworth does a good job as the title character, but Natalie Portman is given practically nothing to do. It feels like a very long set-up so that Thor's role in The Avengers didn't pop out of nowhere, and I definitely liked the character more in that movie than I did on his own. The only thing that really stood out from the first Thor film was Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki, a fact that wasn't lost when he was made the main villain in The Avengers.
In Thor: The Dark World, Loki is brought before Odin (Anthony Hopkins) due to his crimes from The Avengers and is sentenced to life in the dungeons of Asgard. Thor finishes up uniting the realms that have rebelled, and the rebels are also sent to the dungeons. However, there is a realm that has been forgotten: Svartalheim, that of the Dark Elves, a race that was banished thousands of years before when Thor's grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) prevented Dark Elf leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) from using a substance called Aether to revert the universe back to darkness during a convergence of the nine realms.
That convergence is on its way again, leading Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to try to put instruments around Stonehenge - which he does while naked, resulting in his arrest. Jane Foster (Portman) and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her intern Richard (Chris O'Dowd) respond to some kids who seem to have found a spacial and gravitational anomaly. Jane falls through the anomaly into another world and accidentally unlocks the Aether, which inhabits her. Its presence then awakes Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves, who again put their plans in motion.
Drawn to the Aether, Malekith attacks Asgard after Thor brings Jane there to find out if the Aether can be removed. During the attack, Thor's mother Frigga (Rene Russo) is killed. Loki, wracked with grief and hungry for revenge, agrees to accompany Thor in a quest to destroy Malekith, seemingly giving his life to protect Thor. Despite their efforts, Malekith succeeds in removing the Aether from Jane and taking it for himself, heading to place on Earth where the anomalies were detected. As the nine realms converge, it is up to Thor, Jane and the others to prevent Malekith's plans from coming to fruition.
I said I am in the minority when it comes to these films, and I am certainly in that here. Thor: The Dark World I find to be a much better film than the original. The shorter length is appreciated as it keeps the story on track, which I feel is important with a film like this. While Loki is certainly up to his old tricks, the focus is one one main villain, and Malekith is played in a way that is less evil and more tragic and desperate. His efforts to bring the universe back to darkness are not out of pride or a desire to rule, but more to save his own race and return things to an idyllic way that he remembers.
There are many other highlights in this movie: the final battle that is fought from realm to realm, the well-imagine weaponry and technology of all the races (most welcome were the Dark Elves' singularity grenades) and the fact that director Alan Taylor went out of his way to make Asgard and the rest of what was happening look more realistic. Still plenty of CGI used (it is a major Hollywood film, after all), but used more the way it should be. There is much less of a video game or cartoon feel.
My major problem, though, is the character of Jane Foster. Rather than being a major player, she is still just a plot device like in the first movie. I think Kate Denning had a much more vital role to play than Natalie Portman did. If you are going to get a star to play a role, you might as well do something with her. So far, in both movies, she's just been there to be there.
Despite this flaw I hope that this branch of the Marvel Universe continues on the path it currently is on. The ending was certainly full of promise.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Time: 112 minutes
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Denning, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Alan Taylor