Watch one Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie a week from now until Infinity War's release on 27th April, and you'll be up to speed on all the blockbusters in the MCU so far.
We're continuing this week with the hammer god's second adventure in Thor: The Dark World...
While Thor is off swinging his hammer, astrophysicist Jane Foster is getting into a bit of a pickle down on Earth. She's become the vessel for a nasty black gaseous substance called the Aether. This turns out to be devastating weapon that Odin's dad Bor stashed away aeons ago to keep it away from beaky baddies the Dark Elves. Now, Dark Elf leader Malekith wants it back. Thor whisks Jane to Asgard. But in order to vanquish these evil pointy-eared foes, he'll need the assistance of his wicked bro Loki, who remains in manacles after misbehaving himself during The Avengers.
Director Kenneth Branagh had delivered a huge hit with 2011's smart, funny and stylish Thor, in which Chris Hemsworth demonstrated that he was equally adept at comedy and taking his shirt off.
As its title makes clear, the intention with this sequel was to take Thor to a much darker and grittier place. Monster director Patty Jenkins was among those originally in the frame to direct, but she left at an early stage, citing those pesky 'creative differences'.
Of course, as we all now know, she eventually found her superhero when she defected to DC for the Wonder Woman movie four years later. On board came Alan Taylor, a veteran of many an HBO series, including, significantly, Game of Thrones. He brought with him as Director of Photography Kramer Morgenthau, with whom he'd worked on GoT.
Their determination to make more of the Viking mythology that informed Marvel's Thor franchise, and to ground Asgard in realism rather than fantasy, led them to undertake extensive principal photography in Iceland. The spectacular coast of Norway was also used as a template for CGI rendering.
There's no doubting charismatic Chris Hemsworth's commitment to the role of Thor. He even grew his hair out so he wouldn't have to wear a wig this time. But with due respect to the star, The Dark World belongs to Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Thor's deliciously sneering, bitchy, egocentric adopted sibling steals every scene he's in.
What's more the film really takes flight once he's sprung from jail and gets down to some serious bickering. But don't take our word for it. Hiddleston's role was beefed up significantly after he proved so popular with audiences in Avengers Assemble. Alan Taylor even set up substantial reshoots to squeeze more Loki into the story.
"We realised how well Loki was working in the movie, and we wanted to do more with him," he told Collider, with refreshing candour.
Here's the really interesting thing, though: Hiddleston originally auditioned for the role of Thor. Imagine how that might have turned out?
SPOILER ALERT! Of course, that climactic battle sequence is a corker. But it's Loki seizing the throne that caused jaws to drop, especially as we'd been tricked into believing he'd perished.
The final scene where he accepts Thor's resignation while posing as Odin acted as the perfect set-up for last year's acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok.
"Whoa!" enthuses Loki, slipping comfortably into the persona of flag-salutin' superhero Captain America. "Costume's a bit much – so tight. But the confidence! I can feel the righteousness surging. Hey, wanna have a rousing discussion about truth, honour, patriotism? God bless America!"
End Credits Sequence(s)
Those Marvel folks just love to make us sit all the way through the credits in case we miss anything important. And this time, they really pulled out all the stops with three sequences.
The first one provoked most excitement among Marvel enthusiasts. This introduces Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector (played by Benicio del Toro), who's shown receiving the Aether from Sif and Volstagg for safekeeping in his space station museum. "One down, five to go," he whispers. Of course, we were to meet him again in Guardians of the Galaxy as this Elder of the Universe's mission becomes clearer.
Next up, we find Jane all on her lonesome in London, when she hears thunder and races outside to find that Thor has returned. They snog. Awww!
If that's a bit too wet for you, worry not because here's a marauding Frost Giant from Jotunheim now apparently rampaging through the English capital…
Stan Lee Cameo
It wouldn't be a Marvel movie without a Stan the Man cameo, right? This time, the great man is one of a room full of mental patients being treated to Dr. Erik Selvig's animated explanation of the Convergence.
At one point, Selvig grabs someone's shoe to illustrate one of the nine realms. When his lecture is over, he asks whether there are any questions. Cut to Mr. Lee sitting at a table, apparently the only attentive person in the room. "Yeah," he quips. "Can I have my shoe back?"
What the Critics Said
"Like Whedon’s whip-smart Avengers screenplay, Thor: The Dark World manages to acknowledge the inherently silly nature of its premise while compellingly asserting that, hey, sometimes it’s fun to suspend your disbelief when the results look this good." Indiewire
"As confident and assured as its lead character, Marvel’s great run continues. We give this Thor out of Thive. (Sorry.)" Empire
"The secret weapon is Hiddleston. The best thing the film's army of five screenwriters did is set the odd couple of Thor and Loki on a sort-of celestial road trip… Hiddleston's villainous asides steal the show, and he brightens The Dark World when it needs it most." New York Daily News
"This is a deeply silly, extremely noisy and sometimes impenetrable action movie that’s drowning in CGI, wild overacting and mullets. And it’s enormously entertaining." Time Out London
"Malekith stands around glowering with pale-faced, pointy-eared resentment, like a mature student who has been thrown out of a Goth pub for smoking." The Guardian
Next time: Captain America: The Winter Soldier