Depth is not an attribute I would ever expect to be applied to Thor. The first film set up a world that is rich and enjoyable in the way that it draws from Norse mythology and then plants the characters firmly in the setting of the modern era. However, the characters weren’t especially deep or conflicted. Loki found out he was adopted but it didn’t change his motivation as he always desired the throne. Thor was cast out and made to live as a human but he only felt betrayed because he thought he could never return home. Had he not been tricked by Loki, he would likely have still saved that village and fought the Destroyer.
In Thor 2: The Dark World, all of the characters, from Thor to his mother, appear much more colourful and display many more shades to their personalities. Thor, at first seems to be a hero king, travelling the nine realms and willing the approval and admiration of their people. Underneath the surface however, he still desires to see Jane again. Four or five times various characters attempt to dissuade Thor by telling him that he cannot rule the nine realms if his heart is focused only on one. At a number of points, the fleetingness of human life compared to the Asgardian lifespan is also noted.
As the film shows, all of this weighs heavy on the shoulders of the main character. He wants to pursue his true love but he also wishes to save his home and later he desires vengeance for the death of his mother. Thor is pulled in many directions and though he knows what the right thing to do is, he struggles to always do it. On the flip side, Loki always knows what the right thing to do is but has no trouble doing the exact opposite.
The Dark World really attempts to delve deeper into the character of Loki. Yes, he is a trickster but many of his tricks were taught to him by his mother. In fact, we even see her use such tricks for good, suggesting that there is a benign use of Loki’s powers. But Loki desires the throne, or more basically he desires authority and power itself. Much of his actions throughout the first film are his attempt to prove his worthiness, much like Thor had to prove his worthiness to wield Mjolnir. In this sequel, his actions are largely born out of his acceptance that he will never be worthy. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will just submit the throne to Thor. Even as he comes to terms with his inability to inherit the throne, he still desires it.
Marvel also show Loki as distressed as we’ve ever seen him. The character is usually quite unflappable but the death of his mother, or adoptive mother, throws him into a state of despair that is really quite unlike him. It reflects the power of grief and gives the character the motivation to set aside his differences in order to work alongside his brother and avenge their mother. That isn’t to imply he is too depressed to get his little comedic jabs in. Along with Jane Foster’s intern Darcy, who now has her own intern, Loki delivers most of the comedy. On particular cameo by Captain America, an illusion by Loki, was especially hilarious.
Not to be out done, Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster with all the subtleties and short comings required of her and yet never comes off as a damsel in distress. Early in the film, a very ancient power, the aether attaches itself to her. This ancient element threatens to drain her life completely, causing her to faint sometimes, and throws up a force field against all except the mightiest Asgardians who touch her. In a much less capable actress, it would be very easy to play this role without any strength but Portman never plays the character as allowing the gravity of the situation to bring her down. The script itself depicts Foster as intelligent and strong, despite her need to be saved from the force killing her from within. Little moments like finding the way of the planet of the Dark Elves or figuring out Asgardian technology were great little character moments that kept the character from seeming weak.
Kenneth Branagh was the perfect choice to direct the first Thor and admittedly I was a little wary of the change to Alan Taylor. Taylor is by no means a bad director, but Branagh was such a perfect fit to the character of Thor and the world that he lived in that the change felt unnecessary. Some might argue that Taylor was a better fit for this darker sequel but I would challenge that. Branagh has years of stage under his belt and I have no doubt that he knows how to do conflicted and gritty. Yet, Taylor’s experiences from shows such as Game of Thrones and The Sopranos did bring something to the show that it lacked before and this fresh perspective may have made Thor in to a more relatable hero on the whole.
Of course, the film is far from perfect. Many of Loki’s tricks can be seen coming from a mile away and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith as a villain has less personality as Loki. Compared to the more layered characters portrayal of the other characters, Malekith seems rather one note and unintelligent. The only reason he acquires the aether is because of a gambit partially gone wrong by Loki and Thor. And after all the threat and doom, the fight battle has far too many comedic spots. The battle manages to take place across all nine realms, which is fun, but the film winds up having Thor hop on a train because he lost his hammer, right in the middle of what appears to be the looming apocalypse. Humorous as that scene is, it was completely mistimed.
As a sequel, Thor 2: The Dark World takes a lot from the original and builds upon it enjoyably. As part of the wider Marvel universe, it arguably cements Thor, the Asgardian god, as the most relatable hero when compared with his teammates, the genius billionaire, the war hero from the 40’s and the guy scientist who overloaded on the nerd rage perk. Maybe Captain America: The Winter Soldier can change that.