Thor: The Dark World went through several difficulties during its early pre-production. The main one being that Thor director Kenneth Branagh, didn’t sign on for the sequel. Before Thor even released in 2011, Marvel Studios announced their intention to release a second Thor movie. Branagh commented “It’s kind of news to me,” and that they should wait until they saw how audiences felt about the first one. Even after the movie’s success, he decided not to direct the sequel, feeling that he didn’t get enough of a break between films. After all, Thor was a longer filming process than he was used to because of Thor’s special effects heavy nature. But he did state that he was really proud of his work with Thor.
The Dark World went through several possible directors. Brian Kirk went into early negotiations, and although he had directed episodes for shows like Game Of Thrones, this was to be his first big budget movie. He eventually passed on the gig though, due to contractual sticking points. Patty Jenkins, the director of Monster, the pilot episode of The Killing, and eventually 2017’s Wonder Woman and its planned 2020 sequel, also entered negotiations. She even briefly signed onto the movie. However in December of 2011, she exited the project, citing creative differences. On her departure, she said “I have had a great time working at Marvel. We parted on very good terms, and I look forward to working with them again.” She said that she wouldn’t have made a good Thor 2 because of the story Marvel wanted, but could have made a great Thor movie with the kind of story she wanted to tell. Judging by how Wonder Woman turned out, I could believe that.
Alan Taylor eventually signed on as the director, having directed a few episodes of Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. Because of the delayed hiring of a director, initial filming was delayed from late spring to late summer. Despite that, Disney moved the release date up by several weeks. Filming was delayed further into early September, and they hadn’t even hired the full cast yet. Also, at the end of September, Jaimie Alexander (Sif) was injured on set. “It was raining, it was dark outside, it was like 5 in the morning – and I went down on a metal staircase and slipped and slipped a disc in my thoracic spine and shipped 11 of my vertebrae. I knocked my left shoulder out of place and tore my rhomboid on my right side … it took me out of filming for a month.”
The fact that an injury that scary only took her out of filming for a month is crazy. I remember that when we first heard of that injury, they were scared that she would be permanently injured.
It’s worth noting that Don Payne, the original story writer for both Thor movies, died of bone cancer not long after Thor: The Dark World’s release. Thor: The Dark World was the last movie he ever worked on. In addition, he worked on a number of TV shows, most notably The Simpsons, the last episode he worked on being 2013’s White Christmas Blues.
With only a handful of exceptions, every cast member from Thor returned to the sequel. Zachary Levi, who was originally supposed to play Fandral in Thor (But needed to back out due to scheduling conflicts), actually took up the role in The Dark World, after Joshua Dallas (Fandral in Thor), needed to back out due to scheduling conflicts. Levi compared Fandral to his role of Flynn Rider in Tangled, saying “Fandral is a little similar to Rider in some ways … He’s like Errol Flynn. He loves ladies, as do I.” He also talked about The Warriors Three being there to support Thor, being his confidents, his best friends, and have fought many battles with him. The other missing cast members are Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson, who was busy with Agents of Shield) and Colm Feore as Laufey (who died in the first movie).
Thor: The Dark World released in late October of 2013, and it was a financial success. It earned a worldwide total of $644 million, surpassing the first Thor movie after only 19 days. However, it wasn’t received all that well critically. It earned a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the lowest rated MCU movie on the website (Incredible Hulk being the second lowest with a 67%). Most critics referred to it as an entertaining movie, but nothing special. The best quote I could find to sum up the general opinion is from a review from The Guardian – “Thanks to Hiddleston and Hemsworth’s impressive collective charisma, Thor: The Dark World is far from a franchise killer.”
Personally I like this movie, but only enough to call it a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours. The basic story of Malekith trying to use the aether (reality stone) to pretty much destroy the universe could have been good if Malekith was actually written as an interesting villain. In the comics, he’s the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to the Joker from the Batman universe. He’s clearly in love with how evil he is, and it’s hard not to be entertained by him. Add in the fact that he’s the king of the Dark Elves, and the combination of his immortality, his deceptive nature, and his powerful magical abilities make him a Thor level threat. Malekith in Thor: The Dark World is cold and boring. He is this movie’s biggest flaw by far. Another noteworthy flaw is that Anthony Hopkins seems kind of bored as Odin. That’s in contrast to an amazing performance in Thor, most notably what might be the best single acting moment in the entire MCU, when he banishes Thor from Asgard.
Another weak aspect of the movie is the unfocused nature of the story. In addition to Malekith’s plot, you’re dealing with a convergence of the nine realms, a minor political struggle within Asgard, following the science team that Jane Foster is working with, and starting to properly introduce the infinity stones (explored much clearer and more in-depth in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy). It makes for a bit of a mess of a film; a bit too complex for a 112 minute movie. It’s not confusing mind you – it just feels unfocused. As much as reversing the visiting another world sub-plot could have been interesting (Jane Foster visiting Asgard instead of Thor being banished to Earth), not much is really done with it. You see Jane Foster’s initial reaction, and that’s about it. This movie would have benefitted greatly from a simplified plot or a longer running length to dig deeper into the story and the characters.
The fact that it’s got three screen writers in addition to the story credits and the multiple directors involved at various points probably didn’t help. It’s not like the writers were bad – it had Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (all three Captain America movies and Avengers: Infinity War) and Christopher Yost (co-creator of X-23 in the comics, and the writer of many entertaining comics and several well-received animated TV shows, as well as writing Thor: Ragnorok). In general, Thor: The Dark World feels rushed, and it probably would have benefitted from one more year of development.
That said, Thor: The Dark World isn’t without its merits. The relationship between Thor and Loki is always compelling and entertaining. When this movie starts, they couldn’t be further apart, and it’s a tragedy that forces them to work together again. But when Loki apparently dies, you can tell that Thor is enraged. You can tell that Thor cares about his frost giant brother, and that in his own twisted way, Loki also cares about Thor. This also leads to an almost shocking moment where you think Loki betrays Thor as soon as he’s able to. I won’t spoil exactly what that is or what actually happens, but it’s a great moment.
The action in this movie is also fun, especially the climactic battle between Thor and Malekith. It’s a fight that stretches across all nine realms, warping through the universe in the middle of the convergence, while Jane Foster’s team of scientists uses the strange physics to their advantage against Malekith’s army. The movie also expands on Sif’s character, subtly portraying her attraction towards Thor and her jealousy towards Jane, while still showing her skills as a warrior and her loyalty.
Thor: The Dark World is the weakest movie in second phase of the MCU, but after going through all of these movies again, I’d say it’s still a fun movie. It’s just not remarkable in any way. I’d sooner rewatch this over The Incredible Hulk just for Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki alone. It’s still worth seeing if you enjoy these characters and you haven’t seen this movie yet. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
The next two movies make up what is possibly the best year the MCU has seen so far, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. After that, we wrap up Phase 2 with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant Man. Also, Captain Marvel releases next weekend. I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to try and jump ahead for one of these posts after I see it, or write a first impressions post similar to my Wednesday comics posts, and write a more detailed blog post later. Either way, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to watch it over the opening weekend, but I’ll see it sooner rather than later.