Easily the most maligned film in the MCU – I have heard many people say “All MCU films are good. Well, except The Dark World, obviously” – I am here, dear readers to launch a defence of the black sheep middle child of the Thor trilogy. That’s right, this piece is in praise of The Dark World. Whilst not as good as Ragnarok (because nothing is), The Dark World is a much more entertaining film than the first Thor and I find its reputation mystifying. If you are curious, The Dark World comes in at number 8 in my MCU ranking, behind the Cap Trilogy, two of the Avengers films, Black Panther and Ragnarok. The Dark World is funny, lots of stuff happens, it features a really interesting contrast of locations and has great characters saying some great lines. I’ve also never understood why Malekith (Christopher Eccleston and his perfect villain nose) is viewed by most as the worst MCU villain. He’s a similar character type to Ronan (Lee Pace) – one of the most positive things about the Guardians and Captain Marvel films and is more memorable than many other MCU villains.
It does grind my gears a bit when people talk about Thor’s “transformation” in Ragnarok and think that he completely changed as a character. Don’t get me wrong, Ragnarok is my favourite MCU movie and it’s definitely a huge leap up from both previous Thor films. However, I would argue that Waititi leaned into aspects of Thor’s character which were already there and which are on display right from the start of The Dark World. After the cold open which introduces us to Malekith, the film starts with a battle on Vanaheim. Thor is backed up by the Warriors Three; Sif (Jamie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (an almost unrecognisable Zachary Levi) – who will later go on to be callously discarded in Ragnarok. Thor exchanges dry-witted banter with them and is still quipping when faced with his foes (in this case a giant troll-like creature). Hemsworth has always demonstrated his comedic skills as Thor, it just took Waititi to exploit this to its full potential.
We then head to earth, where Jane (Natalie Portman – NATALIE. PORTMAN. I don’t think we ever stop and appreciate the fact that DAME NATALIE FREAKING PORTMAN was in the MCU) is on a date with Chris “Wait. Did I do an MCU movie?” O’Dowd. They both say sea bass a lot. Jane and Darcy (Kat Dennings) are an underrated double-act within the MCU in my opinion. They are joined in The Dark World by The Intern (Jonathan Howard) which means that Darcy has someone to boss around and he also comes in handy when Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) shows up in his pants. Probably my favourite scenes in The Dark World take place in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of London. My husband kept popping in and out while I was re-watching this film for this article and saying “is this the same film?” I love that one moment we’re in the midst of battle on Vanaheim, or in the stunning palaces of Asgard and the next moment we have plopped into a scene from The Bill. This warehouse is the setting for Jane’s discovery of the effects of the convergence (the alignment of The Nine Realms). Some kids are chucking stuff down a stairwell and it pops back above their heads. There is also something weird going on with the rain…
Back in space, Odin (SIR ANTHONY SHAKESPEARE HOPKINS) is being the Ruler of Asgard and the King of Exposition with a handy book which explains all about Malekith and the aether (which goes onto be an Infinity Stone – see? This film is important!). This part is stunningly drawn and animated – the visuals of The Dark World are yet another aspect which are sorely under-valued. And now we come to Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki is the best and probably the most well-acted character in the MCU. I have a complex relationship with Hiddleston which I won’t go into here, but his performance as Loki is miraculous. He is an incredibly layered and nuanced character – one who can have you laughing, to feeling tenderness and sympathy, to feeling utter frustration and rage. There is definitely a Shakespearean feel to his scenes with Odin, in particular (it’s no coincidence that Kenneth Branagh directed the first Thor), but his scenes with his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) also show his vulnerability and insecurities. We also see another great MCU character Heimdall (Idris Elba) heroically trying to stop Malekith’s Dark Elves from invading Asgard through doing some action running and jumping.
Frigga and Malekith have a great stand-off using a fake Jane (Loki inherited his tricks from his mother) and this leads to another visually awe-inspiring moment [spoilers] Frigga’s viking funeral. This is exactly what I want my funeral to be like by the way – just putting it out there now. This leads to another highlight. Loki is in the Asgardian cells due to a certain small skirmish in New York (puny God!). Thor approaches him to ask him for a sneaky way out of Asgard and Loki seems fine. However, it turns out Loki has actually ravaged his cell through grief and is sitting in a bloody, broken pile. During their escape, Hemsworth again demonstrates his charisma and humour in Thor’s banter with Loki – which has always been there. There is now a moment I adore – Loki keeps changing into different people to piss Thor off (he IS the annoying younger brother, after all) and this leads to a cameo from CHRISTOPHER ROBERT EVANS doing Loki doing Cap. I would watch a good half an hour of this if I could. Thor also pushes Loki off the ship they escape on – another moment which could easily have featured in Ragnarok.
Another feast for the eyes is when Malekith removes the aether from inside Jane. We have more humour when Chris O’Dowd phones Jane while she’s on a different planet. Then, when they make it back to earth, Thor hangs his hammer on a coat rack and Erik is holding court sans trews. The climactic set-piece which takes place at Greenwich holds its own with any MCU finale. Darcy provides the comic relief – kissing The Intern, dropping The Intern, calling Mjolnir “mew mew.” Thor causes controversy by getting on the Tube and it not making geographical sense. Jane lies on top of Thor to protect him (sob). IT’S ALL GOOD. Yes, like everyone else, I wish the MCU had afforded Dame Natalie Portman the respect she deserves (same with Dame Amy Adams in the DCEU). But we’re lucky to have her in the universe and should appreciate her swan-song here. The fact that after the beautiful credits, the sting involves Thor coming back to earth to kiss Jane and Jane is not even played by Portman (but by Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky in a wig) tells you everything really. Portman had already checked out. Adios MCU.
So there you have it – my defence of Thor: The Dark World. For me, it’s a far more entertaining and superior film to the first Thor. It keeps my interest throughout, has great humour, great characters, great set-pieces, some stunning visuals – what more could you ask for? I still don’t understand why it has such a terrible reputation – but then, most of my MCU opinions are considered, for want of a better word, wrong.
If you don’t believe me, wait for my defence of Avengers – Age of Ultron.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Idris Elba