★★★★ “There are relics that pre-date the universe itself.”
It's probably good that there were a few months in between Thor: The Dark World and Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel. Both are superhero movies that revel in their mythology, and deal with the past coming back to haunt the present. And though I enjoyed them both, I found the Kryptonian history more interesting than what we have here on Asgard.
Prior to the opening title we get some involved backstory that was a little too inside Asgard for my taste. Luckily all we need to take away is that the Dark Elves are bad and the Aether, a cosmic cloud of evil, is worse.
We also catch up with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who is condemned to life in the Asgard dungeons for his crimes in The Avengers.
Now, Asgard is one of nine realms. We spend some time there as well as venturing to Vanaheim, Svartalfheim and Midgard (Earth). If you're curious, the other five realms are Alfheim, Nidavellir, Jotunheim, Hel, and Muspelheim. The alignment of these nine worlds is nigh. It's a cosmic event that happens every 5,000 years and is called the Convergence.
On Vanaheim we find a world where people with swords are fighting the Dark Elves, who are armed with lasers and black hole grenades. Now these grenades are pretty awesome, and it’s hard to fathom that the laser gun guys would ever lose a fight. It's also unclear why most of the good guys use hammers and swords rather than these futuristic ranged weapons.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his hammer can beam between all nine realms to help those that need him. He travels via energy beams and lands with the force of a jet engine. It makes for some great entrances.
Of course, one of these appearances is on Earth where Thor reconnects with Jane (Natalie Portman). Their god-human relationship is frowned upon by many Asgardians, but especially Thor's father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Odin is less than fond of Jane, but it's not personal. Odin makes it quite clear that he thinks humans are barely worthy of consideration. He says, “Human lives are fleeting, they are nothing.” About Jane he says, “She is mortal, illness is their defining trait.”
Jane's assistant, Darcy (Kat Dennings), returns as well and she adds some levity to the film. I also really liked Heimdall (Idris Elba). Heimdall stands guard at Asgard's rainbow bridge and can magically see all nine worlds and it’s trillions of inhabitants. He's a really interesting character I didn't appreciate until seeing him here.
But as far as characters go, Loki owns this movie. He has so much great dialogue as well as some excellent non-verbal moments. There's a great scene where he’s reading a book inside his prison cell, completely unconcerned with the huge battle taking place right outside. It’s a great image.
The battle in the prison is one of Thor's many great action scenes. And the film's final battle spans all nine realms while managing not to lose us in a CGI mess. Unlike Man of Steel's manic melee, Thor's finale is slower paced and feels like we’re closer to the action. There’s even a moment where Thor finds himself miles from the battle without his hammer, and has to ride the subway to get back into the action.
Marvel keeps coming up with great ways to work in Stan Lee cameos, and this is no exception. There’s also a great Avenger cameo that’s equally funny and completely unexpected.
Thor: The Dark World is directed by Alan Taylor. Prior to this, Taylor had done a lot of TV work, but not much movie-wise. I have to assume it was his Game of Thrones directing that landed him this Asgard gig. And if the sold out theater I was in is any hint as to how Thor will do this weekend, Taylor is going to be a busy Hollywood director going forward.