Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones), is an excellent example of how to make your sequel not only live up to its predecessor but, in some ways, surpass it. Careful, though – here be plot spoilers.
Like Iron Man 3, Thor 2 is set after the events of The Avengers and is, in some ways, a reaction to that film’s Battle of New York. After a brief flashback to the reign of Odin’s father Bor and his war against the ever-nihilist Dark Elves, led by Malekith, we find ourselves in present day Asgard.
As Loki is incarcerated within Asgard’s dungeon, joining numerous other ne’er-do-well’s, Thor is bringing peace to the nine realms which have seen a bit of an uprising since the Chitauri’s attempted invasion of Earth.
Meanwhile on Earth, Erik Selvig has sort of lost his mind (partially the result of having Loki inside it in The Avengers.) He accurately predicts the forthcoming Convergence, when all nine realms will be in alignment and matter and energy will be able to pass through them.
Jane Foster, having not seen Thor for two years, is on date in London. It is soon interrupted by her smart alec sidekick Darcy who, like Selvig, has started to notice rifts in the fabric of space.
Jane unwittingly passes through one of these rifts and finds herself infected by the Aether, the superweapon Malekith was deprived of by Bor many eons ago. Upon her return to Earth, the Aether’s presence in the land of the living awakens Malekith from his exiled slumber and his quest to return the nine realms to darkness continues.
What I found most enjoyable about this movie, and the perspective it put on previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is its congruity.
It’s structure is very much a comic book structure – the events of previous issues led to these events which in turn will lead to events in future issues. It’s as if all movies in the MCU are telling a singular story and we’re seeing different aspects of that story in each film.
This is brought home beautifully in the mid-credit scene at the end of the movie when Sif and Volstagg bring the Aether to The Collector for safe-keeping. Like the Tesseract (the McGuffin device from The Avengers and Captain America: The First Avenger), the Aether is one of the six Infinity Stones, cosmic properties which, when assembled into a gauntlet, allow the wielder to control Time, Space, Mind, Soul, Reality, and Power. In other words, the bearer becomes omnipotent.
After Sif and Volstagg have departed, The Collector schemes, “One down, five to go.” This sets up the plot for next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy and likely, as many have predicted, the plot for the third Avengers installment (2018 maybe?).
It is this long arc that fascinates me. By the time we reach Avengers 3, there will have been at least 12 films that led to it, each peeling off another layer of the proverbial onion.
While comic books often use this format (notably the Marvel Civil War series), this has never been done before in the world of cinema. And that in itself is a refreshing format in which to consume a screen story.
7 down, 5 to go.