Five years later, Thor's first sequel still leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
For a company that prides itself on the uniformity of its productions, both visually and thematically, in an effort to create a consistent shared universe, people’s ideas about which Marvel Studios movie is the worst varies wildly.
There are some that feel “Iron Man 3” was too tonally askew from the previous two Iron Man film. Some folks are convinced that “Ant-Man” is too slight for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in the run-up to this summer’s bleak superhero free-for-all “Avengers: Infinity War.” But for our money, there is a clear outlier in the MCU, standing apart not just for terribleness but for its absolute disposability, and its name is “Thor: The Dark World.”
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the development of “Dark World,” which by all accounts was an absolute nightmare, even by the chaotic standards of Marvel Studios at the time. The studio initially hired Patty Jenkins, who wanted to go with a bold new interpretation, having Thor face off against the Enchantress and making that pocket of the universe lusher and more female. Of course, that didn’t happen, and Jenkins was fired and the female villain was nixed, reportedly because of a suggestion from Ike Perlmutter -- the reclusive, far rightwing CEO of Marvel. He suggested that female action figures did not sell as well as others.
Marvel then turned to Alan Taylor, the director of a number of memorable “Game of Thrones” episodes, to oversee the project. Taylor wanted to make things grimier and more authentic. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. During the run-up to his second feature, 2015’s “Terminator Genysis,” he told Uproxx that, “The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie. So, that is something I hope never to repeat and don’t wish upon anybody else.” Welp.
What made the first “Thor” so much fun was that it was Marvel’s equivalent of “Splash.” Thor (played wonderfully by Chris Hemsworth) is a spoiled god who gets banished to earth and has to find his true power before returning to his kingdom. As it turned out, watching a god bumble around suburban New Mexico is really very funny. (Even, at times, through Kenneth Branagh’s Dutch angle-d lens. This visual approach gave it a somewhat more campy "oomph.") This is why, somewhat tellingly, the best parts of “Dark World” involve some kind of comedic interaction or misunderstanding based around the intersection of the magical and the mundane -- Thor hanging his legendary hammer up on a coat rack, Darcy (Kat Dennings) asking Thor how space was, etc.
But, again, these moments are few and far between and the rest of “Thor: The Dark World” is an absolute slog.
The villains are a band of dark elves (led by Christopher Eccleston, who took over for Mads Mikkelson, who left shortly before production began) only slightly more threatening than the Keebler variety, and the entire movie feels slapdash and slipshod, like it was assembled after the fact from disparate elements that nobody knew where to put. Portman reluctantly returned, but is saddled with the lamest of lame storylines, accidentally stumbling upon the otherworldly MacGuffin (a slithery, red goop called the Aether). Starting a movie with such flagrant coincidence is like building a mansion on quicksand; from there on in, all the movie does is sink.
And things that you might have thought, "Oh there’s no way they could screw that up," well, they do. Loki’s return, for the first time since the events of “The Avengers,” should have been full of huge moments. But the character is poorly utilized and awkwardly re-introduced. (Tom Hiddleston, for his part, just looks bored.)
And the action sequences, usually the first thing developed for the movie by a team of very smart people, fizzle, too. There’s a sequence towards the end that, thanks to some mystical something-or-another, sees Thor fighting across multiple planets/realms. This inventive climax should have been an unforgettable showstopper. Instead, thanks to some drab visuals and half-finished effects, it falters. Royally. (At least we got that very funny Chris Evans cameo, scripted by Joss Whedon, when Thor has a walk-and-talk with Loki posing as Captain America.)
But maybe the most criminal aspect of “Thor: The Dark World,” beyond its lack of entertainment value and sluggish pacing, is the fact that it doesn’t add anything to the larger MCU. Nothing.
Sure, the Aether, clumsily establishes itself as one of the cosmic Infinity Stones that Thanos comes charging after in “Avengers: Infinity War,” but it was hard to even recognize that as a “stone," given that most of the time it’s a column of nebulous CG goo. Other than that, the movie is entirely skippable. Almost all of the characters from “The Dark World,” save for Stellan Skarsgard’s kooky scientist, have failed to show up again in the universe -- Portman, Dennings, and Eccelston haven’t returned, even in the subsequent “Thor” movie (the brilliant, bonkers “Thor Ragnarok”). Missing this film in the lead up to “Infinity War” meant nothing.
It’s throwaway quality, noticeable upon initial watch, has only grown in magnitude since. This is unquestionably the worst Marvel movie, one that should have been forever banished to the furthest corner of the galaxy.