As the Marvel movie juggernaut thunders on, we’re beginning to realize how carefully they’ve thought all this out. Kevin Feige and Co. have built their franchise for the long haul, which means pausing to take a breath every now and then instead of constantly trying to top the previous entries (and eventually crashing to the earth as a result). Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows us how that equation can expand this universe in unexpected directions, but the process also creates its share of placeholders: solid movies that nonetheless do little more than entertain us while their creators ramp up for the next mindblower. Case in point: Thor: The Dark World. Hit the jump for my full Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray review.
I actually consider the first Thor one of the best entries in Marvel’s cinematic universe, going against type with a figure who has to lose (rather than gain) his powers before learning how to be a hero. Some of the character’s best moments in The Avengers arrive when his narcissistic jock side peeks out from beneath the chastened protector, reminding us what a douche he used to be. The best moments of The Dark World show him dealing with the ramifications of that: whether he truly wants to be king and whether he might not be up for the job regardless.
Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has some pondering of his own to do, locked in a prison cell after inciting two movies’ worth of mayhem with nothing but time to plot his next move. Then along comes new threat from a race of nihilistic dark elves, forcing the rival siblings to band together again. Their pairing is a wise move, for without Hiddleston to stir the drink The Dark World might not have amounted to much. The central threat constitutes a run-of-the-mill apocalypse scenario — serviceable but nothing extraordinary — and while Thor’s human friends provide plenty of comic relief, they lend the film an unduly cluttered feeling. Natalie Portman is in fine form as Thor’s lover Jane Foster, and The Dark World scores a few more points by marrying her more closely to the danger (as well as giving Jaimie Alexander‘s Lady Sif some pain to grapple with), but they all feel a little too routine for a franchise that kicked on the afterburners just two films previous.
Then Hiddleston shows up and all is forgiven. His Loki remains one of the most complex and interesting comic book villains we’ve seen so far — able to hold his own against no less than seven heroes in The Avengers — and director Alan Taylor gives him free reign here to do what he does best. His self-serving nature hasn’t diminished an ounce, but while his agenda might not be what those around him expect, it might also be more benevolent than they realize. His mercurial nature combines with some justified remorse to make him a compelling cipher: someone capable of anything and who won’t reveal his hand until he’s good and ready. With him along, the various elements find the energy they might otherwise lack, and turn Thor’s second solo outing into thoroughly agreeable bit of entertainment.
That said, it still can’t aspire to anything more, and considering the company it keeps, that leaves it feeling a little pedestrian. Again, I suspect that’s the way it has to be. Marvel has established a standard for quality that never disappoints, and a friendly piece of fluffy fun provides the stability and longevity the studio needs to fully capitalize on its unprecedented ambitions. The Dark World makes an excellent example of that principle in action, lowering our expectations without skimping on the basic craftsmanship that always makes for a good time. It probably won’t top your comic-book Best Of list, but it holds up well to repeat viewings, and its flexible frameworks fits in well with what its creators have in mind. Marvel is set to blow us away again with The Winter Soldier. Consider this a pleasant (and quite tasty) palette cleanser, helping us more fully appreciate what comes next.
The Blu-ray disc meets the expected standards of image and sound quality: gorgeous throughout and with nary a hiccup to distract us from the mayhem onscreen. Special features are copious and interesting. Audio commentary includes two tracks with two paired filmmakers apiece: Feige and Hiddleston, and Taylor and DP Kramer Morgenthau. Other highlights include a two-part feature on Loki, a preview of Winter Soldier, a piece on Brian Tyler’s score, a gag reel and a collection of cut scenes. The high point, however, may be worth a purchase all on its own: another Marvel one-shot featuring Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery handling life in prison. Kingsley constitutes a real coup for the studio, and his appearance here confirms his fondness for this character. It’s a solid Blu-ray package, despite its routine nature… a lot like the film to which it is attached.