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The Road to Avengers 2 Starts Now.
by Kevin J. Johnson

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD is the latest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero, along with Tom Hiddleston as scheming demigod Loki and virtually the entire returning cast of the previous film. This London-set installment is directed by TV veteran Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos), who is responsible for some of the best episodes ever produced on cable. This time, he has the might of the Marvel Studios machine behind him, and makes a thrilling, entertaining movie to boot.

The film is a unique beast, as Loki would put it, as it is a sequel to both Thor and The Avengers, much in the same way Iron Man 3 was to its predecessors. There is literally no one who has seen the first Thor, skipped The Avengers, and waited to see this. Marvel knows that, allowing Thor: The Dark World to build on all the films before it, in true serial fashion. In many ways, this sequel is truer to its pulp origins structurally and aesthetically than any non-Marvel movie in the last few years, even the Star Wars prequels.

Yeah, I said it. Thor: The Dark World out-Star-Wars Star Wars. Nowadays, that ain’t saying much, but it helps if you have $200 million bucks laying around somewhere. All the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have a compelling cast and story (ex.: the Star Wars prequels), and though Hemsworth is the stalwart anchor of this franchise, the audiences are really going to enjoy seeing more of Hiddleston as Loki. I gotta say, Loki is probably the best cinematic villain we’ve had since The Joker. He’s magnetic, maniacal and just a magnificent bastard. You can see the cast members up their game whenever he’s on screen, to the moviegoers’ benefit.

The main threat this time around is Malekith, portrayed by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), whose dark plot threatens the very fabric of our world and the entire universe (The Nine Realms in Asgardian jargon). The cast is given much more red meat: betrayal, jealousy, heartache, self-doubt, hubris, and so on. Yet with all that heaviness, this movie is also laugh out loud funny. So many blockbusters forget to temper the sturm und drang with levity <cough-ManofSteel-cough!> and wit, and Marvel excels at not taking itself too seriously. This is the rare action blockbuster that builds, each set piece growing more inventive in staging and upping the emotional stakes of the combatants involved.

No one expects a THOR movie to be this good, though I have to say a Thor movie can only be so good. In this renaissance of superhero films, The Dark World represents a vaunted comic book staple: the tie-in. A story that leads into a crossover or event arc. This film may as well be titled Thor: The Road to Avengers 2. (Note: that doesn’t make it any less good.) It makes sense for Marvel Studios to keep bringing on TV vets like Joss Whedon and now Alan Taylor. The Dark World is a big-budget TV episode, and I say that in the best way possible (‘cuz TV is good). It’s cool, it’s pulp, but not much different from really great television.

Interweaving the entire universe has allowed these characters to build unlike in any other franchise, and both Hemsworth and Hiddleston benefit from their mutual Avengers experience. However, this movie should be a full-course meal. Instead, it’s a tasty snack before Thanksgiving at Avengers Mansion. In other words, it’s exactly what it needs to be in this day-and-age of the mega-franchise. And even more, it’s better than it has any right to be. Stay until the very end, because it’s fun and credits are your friends. Also, skip the 3D. It’s barely there, and frankly not worth losing the brightness.

Rating: [imax/MATINEE/dollar-show/redbox/netflix/skip-it]