When a film lives up to your expectation, it's usually a fun time in the theatre. When a movie far exceeds your expectations, then you're really in for a good time. That's how I felt about Thor: The Dark World when I caught it yesterday.
The trailer for Thor: The Dark World did not do a lot to excite me about the movie. It looked very much like the sequel would be a repeat of the first Thor movie: OK with a little bit of action and generic romance thrown in to tick off the "romantic interest" box for movie-goers.
Dark World does continue the silly romance with Thor and Jane Foster, and that's probably the weakest part of the movie. Natalie Portman has decent acting chops, and she's got lots of geek cred, but she's given damn little to do in the movie other than be rescued and sit around pining for Thor. (If superheroes were real, they'd have self-help books for women about dealing with the problematic relationships that ensue. But I digress…)
The best part of Dark World is the relationship between Thor and Loki. Of the two, Loki is the far more interesting character anyway: Big, loud, and heroic may be what you want in a superhero, but Thor isn't a really complex character. He gets a bit more personality in Dark World and Hemsworth does a fine job in the role, but Loki is the really interesting character. Not quite as interesting as the North mythology, but I think the movies are doing a better job breathing life into the character than the comics have. Loki has much more of the trickster about him in the films, and that's a far more interesting character. (Disclaimer: I've read a number of comics with Loki as the main villain, but I haven't read all of them…)
The character is written quite well in the movies, but the credit goes to Tom Hiddleston, who really makes the character fun to watch and impossible to pin down. You never know if Loki is capable of change, or feeling any remorse. You can't fully embrace Loki, because the character is capable of unspeakable betrayal and at the same time, you can't entirely dismiss him. You can't help but to feel a bit bad about the character raised in the shadow of Thor by a foster family that includes Odin – the guy who slew Loki's real father. Hiddleston does a great job of playing the villain that just might be capable of doing something noble. Though you're never sure whether, if Loki comes through, whether it's part of a larger plan or if Loki is playing it by ear.
But whatever the reason, I enjoy the dynamic here. Thor clearly loves his brother, but at the same time doesn't trust him, but can't entirely dismiss the relationship. To me, that's 100 times more interesting than the cardboard caricature of a romance between Thor and Foster. Suggestion for the next movie, ditch Jane Foster early on, and put Thor and Loki on a very long adventure.
If I'm remembering right, the original Thor was a bit off in its pacing. A bit too slow at times. I never felt that way in Dark World – the pacing was tight, they did a great job of balancing action, character development, humor, and moving the plot forward.
The actual villain (Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston) is sufficiently malicious and chews scenery acceptably well. The character isn't terribly well-developed, just a archetypal Big Bad that wants to see the world burn. Again, though, the real focus is on Thor and Loki – so Malekith's evil plan is really an excuse to put Thor and Loki together to watch the Asgardian dysfunctional family try to work through its problems.
Speaking of Eccleston, is it just me, or did the second-tier baddies in the movie just have a slight hint of Doctor Who about them? The masks just seemed like a much higher-budget rendering of Doctor Who artwork. The movie clearly needed a few nods to Doctor Who, taking place in London and all. (Or maybe there were a few, but I missed them.)
The CGI was great, and I enjoyed seeing the familiar cast (Odin, Volstagg, Heimdal, etc.) and the battle scenes are good fun. Dark World amps it up a notch, without going over the cliff the way Superman did earlier this year. Special shout-out to Idris Elba for just owning the character of Heimdal. That guy really needs his own break-out movie. He showed damn fine chops in Pacific Rim and kicked ass in The Wire, it's time to put him front and center.
It's not fine cinema, but it was a damn enjoyable movie. Strongly recommend it, unless you just really don't like superhero movies. To avoid any spoilers, I'll also say this: Watch for a damn fun cameo about midway through the movie, and you'll also (as always) be seeing Stan Lee front-and-center too. Stay to the very end of the credits, too.