An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Thor: The Dark World’ (2013) (Movie review)

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his blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the eighth film, “Thor: The Dark World” (2013):

STRENGTHS

This sequel embellishes the strengths of the original. The simple-but-sweet love story between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane (Natalie Portman) is front and center, Asgard grows into a functioning city, the astrophysics team on Earth has the comedic rhythms of old friends, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – the Big Bad from “The Avengers” – hones his mischievous powers of illusion. This is a beautifully dark film as we visit other realms including the titular world, but it’s also packed with smile-worthy one-liners, and the balance works well.

WEAKNESSES

There are some sloppy moments. As an audience, we learn about Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) streaking through Stonehenge before his allies do, and in both cases the knowledge comes from the same news footage. This seems like an editorial patch-job. And I am unclear about how Jane’s team uses its instruments to manipulate the gravity anomaly in the climax; the MCU is usually good about providing enough jargon to make me believe the amazing tech, but this time it feels rushed.

This is a beautifully dark film as we visit other realms including the titular world, but it’s also packed with smile-worthy one-liners.

HEROES

Thor comes into his own here, as he disobeys his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), not for any childish reason but because he believes his strategy can save both Jane and the universe. My favorite hero, though, is the flighty-but-smart Darcy (Kat Dennings), who gets lots of snarky observational one-liners. It’s a shame (for us, not for her, since she’s no doubt well compensated) that Dennings is tucked away on a laugh-track sitcom, because she is an outstanding comedic actress.

VILLAINS

The Big Bad is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), whose goal is epic but boring – he aims to turn the universe’s matter into dark matter. It’s not a problem for the overall film, though, since Loki provides the villainous intrigue. Still thirsty for power, he is genuinely Thor’s ally at times (after all, ruling over nothingness would be no fun), his ability to cast illusions grows in entertaining ways, and he ultimately does take the Asgard throne in a great final twist.

WOMEN

With Jane and Darcy on the same team of freelance scientists, “The Dark World” easily passes the Bechdel Test. As noted, Darcy is a scene stealer, which balances out the fact that Jane is the damsel in distress for most of the film, being an inadvertent vessel for Malekith’s weapon. Jane gets to do heroic science-ing in the final act, though.

MIRROR TO REALITY

Digging into “Thor” comic-book lore, which is drawn from Norse mythology, “The Dark World” is the broadest good-vs.-evil story of the MCU saga so far. It’s not interested in drawing direct allusions to the modern world – although you can find parallels if you want to.

BEST ACTION SCENE

The gravity-well shifts and portals to other worlds in the climactic fight are nuts, but also fun, culminating with the coup de grace of Malekith’s ship going through a portal and squishing him on some random world.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

There are so many Darcy one-liners to choose from. I smiled at this one amid the climactic battle scene, a callback to Darcy’s name for Thor’s hammer from the first film:

Jane Foster (seeing Darcy and Ian appear through a portal while kissing): Darcy!

Darcy (dropping Ian): Jane!

Erik: Ian!

Ian: Selvig!

Darcy (as Thor’s hammer zooms past): Mew-mew!

WORLD BUILDING

Loki is on the Asgard throne at the film’s end, having spun an illusion to fool Thor into thinking he’s Odin. But what did Loki do with the real Odin? Did he kill him? Imprison him? That’s a pretty big cliffhanger. It seems to me that Loki will be content to rule Asgard (even if via illusion), having experienced a disastrous attempt to rule Earth in “The Avengers,” but he’s definitely a potential threat to keep an eye on in future movies.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

I know I wasn’t supposed to, as this film ranks last on many fans’ MCU rankings, but I had a lot of fun with “The Dark World” and the way it mixes the dark end-of-the-universe threat with the light banter of the heroic astrophysicists back on Earth. I’m up for more “Thor” films if they continue to find time for Darcy and friends. I hear the next one leans into the comedy, which could be cool.