Newest Thor installment shows Marvel’s second phase will keep pace


“Thor: The Dark World”

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Tom Hiddleston

Grade: B

Marvel Studios continues their unmatched streak of dependably enjoyable comic-book-themed films with “Thor: The Dark World.”

As “phase one,” which included all of its studio films from 2008 to 2012, of Marvel’s unprecedented superhero universe culminated with the impressively cohesive spectacle that was “The Avengers,” the direction and quality of “phase two” — all studio films from 2013 to “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” in 2015 — was uncertain. However, this summer’s “Iron Man 3” was a noteworthy accomplishment, and, thankfully, the delightfully energetic sequel to the God of Thunder’s 2011 debut is respectable enough to keep this powerful franchise surging forward.

Following the events of “The Avengers,” Thor (an enduringly convincing Chris Hemsworth) has been fighting battles to keep peace between the nine realms of the universe. However, when his sweetheart, earthly astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), accidentally discovers the Aether, an ancient weapon with the power to destroy all existence, the newly reawakened dark elves, led by their formidable leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), are keen to exploit its infinite power. As the Convergence — a time when all nine worlds align — approaches, Thor, reluctantly requiring the assistance of his treacherous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, continuing to be one of cinema’s most lovable villains), must prevent interspace catastrophe.

The first act of “The Dark World” is worryingly uneven. The film struggles to distance itself properly from “The Avengers,” the humor is hokey, the editing is awkward, there is an overreliance on visual effects and the always unnecessary “darker” tone — a common trope of 21st century superhero sequels — diminishes the joyful buoyancy and humanity that made the Kenneth Branagh-directed predecessor so fun, such as the effective fish-out-of-water gags whenever Thor has to adjust to common earthly situations.

However, at the turn of the second act, the film finds it footing. “Thor: The Dark World” is satisfied enough in outdoing — or, at the very least, out-hammer-throwing — the original, instead of desperately straining to meet the grandeur of “The Avengers.” The film manages to carve out its own identity, and that’s what makes this another Marvel success.

All outside references and fan-teasing cameos aside, “The Dark World” (mostly in the latter half of the film) utilizes the subtle humor, superb visuals and rollicking sense of amusement that worked so well 2 1/2 years ago, only this time weaving on a grander scale, with more interesting villains and a dizzyingly intricate climax.

At the very least, Marvel has proven that despite the soaring standards of “The Avengers,” reverting back to creating solitary superhero films is not a disappointing comedown. Rather, with features as crisp and exciting as “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel proceeds to retain its remarkable reputation.