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While Kenneth Branagh struggled to define a world in the original Thor, Alan Taylor has the gift of audience familiarly with its sequel Thor: The Dark World. Branagh’s original film took a long time to find its footing and never quite explored how great the characters of Thor and Loki could be. That second issue was ironed out in The Avengers.

So Thor: The Dark World hits the ground running with fully realized, charismatic and confident portrayals of all the characters involved. It’s defined by Thor being an ultimate hero and Loki being a mischievous villain. That, coupled with plenty of Avengers-size action, laugh-out-loud humor and Marvel Cinematic Universe easter eggs help make Thor: The Dark World one of the best Marvel films to date.

After an epic, Lord of the Rings opening, Thor: The Dark World picks up almost immediately after the events in The Avengers as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back to Asgard by his “brother,” Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Concurrently, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is researching some new anomalies on Earth and finds herself in a very, very bad place. This place even gets the attention of her celestial boyfriend. From there, an ancient villain named Malekith (Christopher Eccelston) is awoken, hellbent on taking over the galaxy while Thor whisks Jane up to Asgard.

Yes, there’s a lot going on with the plot of Thor: The Dark World, and that’s a good thing, because the good can outweigh the not-so good. The not-so-good, surprisingly, is Malekith. The whole character feels underwritten and simple. Even with the whole universe at risk, his motivation and journey are familiar and kind of forgettable. Plus he rarely distinguishes himself in battle, unlike his second in command, Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Basically, he’s there as an excuse to delve into Asgardian exposition and show off Thor in some very cool, contrasting action scenes. These scenes vary between gritty, Game of Thrones, battlefields and fast paced, Star Wars-style dogfights. Then the finale is like something out a popular video game that would most certainly be a spoiler. Save for the last scene, the action isn’t exactly innovative, but it’s almost non-stop and well-paced enough to keep things moving along.

So while Malekith isn’t particularly exciting as a villain, what is exciting – and makes the movie so good – are the relationships. Specifically those between Thor and his interstellar love Jane, as well as Thor and Loki, the latter of which has fully accepted his dark side. When Hemsworth is on screen with either Hiddleston or Portman, it’s insanely watchable and captivating both because of the performances, and the actors’ comfort and chemistry with one another.

There are a lot of laughs in these interactions too, creating what’s probably Marvel’s funniest movie to date. Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard and Chris O’Dowd also provide some nice levity in the film.

But really, this is the Tom Hiddleston show. Hemsworth is better than ever as the all-mighty Thor and Portman elevates Jane from the first film, but Hiddleston’s Loki has such beautiful subtlety in Thor: The Dark World, it’s no wonder they added more scenes just for him. He’s certainly a supporting character, but a supporting character that resonates from beginning to end, keeping everything on edge. Even when he’s not on screen, you feel his presence, and that gives the film great energy.

Thor: The Dark World is as funny as it is exciting. A slick balance of action, humor and comic book sensibilities. Fans are going to find so much to like about this movie, not only because it’s fun, but because of its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Besides the two credits scenes, Thor: The Dark World has ramifications that’ll be felt for years to come. So while the film might not have the psychological complexity or sheer scope of the previous two Marvel movies, it’s more balanced and feels weightier.

/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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