Thor: The Dark World reaches back through mythology and comic book lore to a war between the beings of The Dark World (the exceedingly creepy dark elves), and pretty much everyone else, who is of the light. Thor's grandfather is thought to have vanquished all these creepy dark elves and destroyed their ultimate weapon: the Aether. Of course, he didn't kill them all - a few of the most ruthless escaped. And of course he didn't destroy the Aether, he just hid it. When will these epic good guys ever learn? So, fast forward about 5000 years to today, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is off bringing piece to the 9 realms, and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is moping about London missing her hammer-wielding boyfriend (good thing she lives in London now, because if she were still in the US, I'm pretty sure the world would have been destroyed - I'm not too keen on living in a world that is saved by Natalie Portman, but whatever). So basically, the ancient baddies come back, Jane Foster gets all mixed up in it, and Thor has to save the day before the 9 realms are plunged into eternal darkness. (SPOILER ALERT: The good guys win.)
This movie ended up being a really fun way to play out all the badass characters they only teased at in the first - much more Earth-bound movie. Now we got to know Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Frigga (a totally badass Rene Russo) and Heimdall (Idris Elba - whoa) and a good many of the other Asgardians in a way we just didn't before, and it's a really cool world. Hopkins actually comes off a little too withdrawn, but he's Hopkins, so even on an off day, he's pretty much better than anyone else. Russo, on the other hand, is every inch the queen and mother, and proves herself an excellent match for Odin. And Elba is nothing short of fantastic as the conflicted (and seriously badass) gatekeeper of Asgard. The other Asgardian characters we meet are likeable and varied, building a world that I could invest in. And I was so pleasantly surprised by Zachary Levi's appearance as Fandral! You go, Chuck! Chris Hemsworth's Thor was a more mature character, having been changed by his experiences in The Avengers and in the wars that followed. And even Natalie Portman (who I generally find pretty boring as an actor) had some fun personality to her. Christpher Eccleston as the big bad Malekith handily embodies the darkness he craves with stoic strength. And let's give three cheers for Tom Hiddleston's welcome return as the trickster god Loki. A complex journey, a lively performance, excellent twists - what's not to love? On the earthly side, Kat Dennings is dry and funny as Jane's sidekick Darcy, Jonathan Howard is delightfully out of his depth as Darcy's sidekick Ian, and Stellan Skarsgard is understandably manic as the long-suffering Dr. Selvig.
All around, it was a solid cast, a solid plot, and a lot of fun. Director Alan Taylor has made a worthy addition to the vast Marvel universe. Thor: The Dark World built on what was there and provided ample room to grow outward. And I have to give him and his team my deep admiration for the big final fight between Thor and Malekith - the storyboard for that sucker had to be epic!
And, if you haven't already figured it out - stay through the credits. And I mean ALL of the credits. Don't assume that the first tag is the final tag.
Thor: The Dark World is playing...um...pretty much everywhere. So go see it. I promise I'll be back to writing about theatre later this week.