Asgardians face off against an army of confusingly nebulous “Dark Elves” with frustratingly vague (but unquestionably sinister) motives in this paint-by-numbers, but still marginally superior sequel to the moderately entertaining 2011 hit Thor. This sequel is about as high in quality as you can expect from Marvel Studios flicks, and by that I mean “it’s more entertaining than it is particularly good”.
The fact that I don’t feel any real burden to provide a more extensive plot synopsis for The Dark World highlights it’s biggest problems (problems that plague Marvel’s films); firstly, the plot is thin and routine. Secondly, the film is in no way engaging enough for the plot to matter much anyway. It’s an inoffensive romp through the colorful and fantastical “nine-realms” that accomplishes little-to-nothing by way of narrative progress. The supposedly apocalyptic threat that the Dark Elves (who we know are unquestionably evil for no other reason than having the word “dark” in their title) present feels so empty that no real tension develops from it. This is the eighth film thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s already become thoroughly customary that the villains are soundly defeated during the finale with little to no losses suffered by the protagonists. The MCU’s antagonists are a load of hot air, and the Dark Elves aren’t an exception. The story gains a minor amount of dramatic traction through the interpersonal drama between the Asgardians, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the overarching plot of the film is all bark with absolutely no bite. Marvel’s success is based on innovation of business-model, not innovation in storytelling, and The Dark World is perhaps the most obvious example of this to date. Which isn’t to say that Thor 2.0 is Marvel’s worst film, on a scale it would fall somewhere in the middle, but the grandiose franchise model is no longer enough to amuse and so the burden falls onto the story of the individual film to deliver, and, like The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger before it, Thor: The Dark World doesn’t really cut it as a stand-alone narrative.
That being said, Dark World isn’t without merit, and given that it doesn’t have to cut it as a stand-alone narrative due to it’s placement within what is essentially a theatrical television series in it’s second season, it mostly works just fine. In numerous ways it succeeds in improving upon it’s predecessor by expanding and deepening the world of Thor, which felt rather empty in the last entry. Asgard is a believable city with a culture and a population now, which really shouldn’t be the achievement that it is, but it’s definitely a much needed change. The cast is competent, if not overly enthusiastic to be there. The visual effects (with the exception of some shockingly spotty green screen) and fantasy landscapes look like a supermarket brand version of The Hobbit which is either doable or insufferable depending on how much you enjoyed The Hobbit. The action is zippy, inventive and entertaining. And the script, though uninspired, is at the very least “fun” and humorous. As much as I rag on the actually quality of this film, I would be remiss to ignore how legitimately entertaining it is, in its own unapologetically silly manner. It may not be impressive in any particular way, but there’s undoubtedly a decent amount of fun to be had in Norsemen with magical powers fighting a horde of goth-elves in battle sequences that are a goofy hybrid of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (oh yeah, there’s lasers in this because “space”). Which is all Marvel really needs to keep their target audience entertained.
Thor: The Dark World sticks religiously to the time-tested Marvel tradition of “high on ‘fun’, light on substance”. How much enjoyment you get out of it will be entirely contingent on whether or not you continue to be amused by Marvel’s house style. If you had been hoping, like myself, that Iron Man 3 was a deliberate step for Marvel towards the dramatically engaging, Thor puts said hopes to a peaceful rest. Light, fluffy and inconsequential is the name of the game for this franchise, and The Dark World is yet another entry that keeps that flame alive and burning. For what it is, Thor is a relatively solid entry in a dependably entertaining series of films. It may be largely devoid of commendable filmmaking merit, but it’s fun and it’s not hurting anybody, and that’s alright by me. All I ask from Marvel is that they continue to make films that are at least entertaining and make me laugh, and Thor: The Dark World passed both of those qualifiers. Would I see a third? Sure. Do I need to see a third? Not particularly.
Andrew Allen is a television (and occasionally film) writer for Action A Go Go. He is an aspiring screenwriter and director who is currently studying at the University of Miami. You can check him out on Tumblr @andrewballen and follow him on Twitter @A_B_Allen.