You could make the case that the second film of any potential comic book franchise is the most important. Of course, the first one had to do well enough at the box office to even warrant a second. But the second one tells you where the franchise is going, if its characters have the depth and appeal to be sustained, if its mythology is worth exploration.
The original Thor didn’t break any box office records, but it performed solidly enough ($181 million domestic gross) and was greatly boosted by the wild success of The Avengers and the rising stars of both Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) and his jealous brother Loki (mmmmm….Tom Hiddleston). (Did I just write that out loud?).
That film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, a great filmmaker with serious Shakespearean bona fides. It also gave us the origins of the Thor/Loki rivalry and told a great “man out of time” story, with Thor landing on earth and falling for pretty physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). I loved the Shakespearean elements of that brotherly feud and all the humor Branagh teased out of Thor’s fish-out-of-water scenario.
Thor: The Dark World, on the other hand, is directed by Alan Taylor, who has some impressive TV credits under his belt (Game of Thrones for one) but is hardly Branagh. Plus, I worried that any sequel would get more into the clash-of-the-realms stuff, which would probably appeal to Marvel geeks, but would leave me out in the cold.
Well, I’m pleased to say that Thor: The Dark World gets it right.
No, it doesn’t have as many of the “so a demigod walks into a diner” gags as the original, but it does have a few. (In one scene, Thor impatiently rides the London Underground to more quickly catch up with his nemesis.) Indeed, it keeps a lot of the original’s irreverent humor, mostly embodied by Stellan Sarsgaard, as Jane’s mentor who has gone a little batty—he’s in the “pants optional” phase of his mental breakdown—and the adorkable Kat Denning as her spunky, Jimmy Olsen-style sidekick.
And yes, it has more clash of the titans stuff than the first—in this one, Thor is battling evil elves who want to plunge the realms into permanent darkness (or somethin)—but it still focuses on relationships: Thor to his father (Anthony Hopkins); Loki to his mother (Rene Russo); Thor to Jane; Thor to his friend, the watchman Heimdall (Idris Elba, who is long overdue for his own franchise, thank you very much); but mostly Thor to Loki.
The original filmmakers really struck pay dirt with their two male leads. It was apparently Joss Whedon who first insisted that Chris Hemsworth audition for the role of Thor. As always, his judgment was impeccable. Because Hemsworth basically is Thor—strapping and preternaturally handsome, with flowing blond locks, a booming voice, and just enough irony about himself to keep the thing from descending into camp. As for Loki (mmmm…Loki), Hiddleston effortlessly steals the show. He’s the bad boy dandy—villain as extravagantly spoiled and bored brat. Hiddleston has the physical command and voice of the Shakespearean actor he is and a disarmingly boyish smile that tells you Loki just loves being bad. It’s seductive.
So yeah, Thor: Darkness Rises gets the job done. It fulfills the requirements of any second film in a franchise: It had me anxious to see the third.