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Mr. Brown Verses The God of Thunder

Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began where the first phase started: with Tony Stark and his advanced suit of armor, this time battling the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 earlier this summer. I thought it was a great kickoff to begin the next slate of films that will, inevitably, bring them back together for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is due out in 2015. However, a major question arises for the studio: Outside of Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man and Joss Whedon's bringing together all these superheroes from the same shared movie universe, how well can Marvel Studios do without relying on either, financially?

The answer is, apparently, pretty solid. The sequel to 2011's Thor, featuring Chris Hermswoth as the Prince of Asgard, has already grossed $337 million worldwide and will eventually top it's predecessor's final tally of $447 million by the end of November. Sure, Thor: The Dark World didn't break the Box Office records like Iron Man 3 did with it's $174.1 million weened gross, and is going to go down as the undisputed box office king of 2013 with $403 million in North America, but the sequel did make $20 million more than it's predecessor ($65.7 million over the first May weekend in 2011) by scoring $85.7 million, and in a post-Harry Potter box office world, count that as a victory for producer Kevin Fegie and the House of Mouse.

Box office wise, The Dark World is doing solid, and has a shot at grossing $200 million before its run ends. But how does this entry of the MCU stack up again past entries? The answer is somewhere in the middle.

While it's good fun to see Chris Hermsworth back as the Mighty Avenger, Tom Hiddleston (arguably the film universe's biggest star since RDJ) as the sinister Loki, and Thor's homeworld of Asgard, this sequel feels underwhelming. The film's main villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccerson) is a generic antagonist who you quickly forget about after the movie ends.  He wants to exact vengeance on Asgard by engulfing the Nine Realms in darkness. To do this, he needs the Aether, a powerful McGuffin stone which will engulf the worlds in darkness forever. Yeah, the Aether, much like the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger, really isn't explained in terms of its significance, so it's just a plot point to move the story and the action foreword. We get to see more of Asgard and a few other places like the home of the Dark Elves (don't ask me to pronounce it), so we do get a sense of a more larger, expansive universe that could be explored in either a next Thor installment, or in future Marvel features.

While we do see more of the Nine Realms, we don't see more of Thor's companions in this one. Jamie Alexander as Sif; Ray Stevenson as Volstagg; Zachery Levi (replacing Joshua Dallas due to his commitment to the ABC series, Once Upon a Time) as Fandral; Tadnaobu Asado as Hogun; and Idris Elba as Heimdall are given little to do expect help Thor break out Loki from his dungeon-like cell he's been sentenced to for eternity, due to his action in The Avengers; with Asado's Hogun not even on Asgard at all, and mainly reduced to a cameo appearance. Even Anthony Hopkins as Odin has less to do, but is otherwise a welcome presence, as the two men clash yet again, this time in battle strategy and tactics. The most active person in the scenes on Asgard (besides Hiddleston and Hermsworth) is Renee Russo as Frigga, the Queen of the realm, who gets to prove her badass qualities in battle after Malekith stages an assault on Thor's home world that is exciting to watch. Even Natalie Portman, returning as Thor's love interest, Dr. Jane Foster, despite playing a key role in the second movie, doesn't get a lot to do besides be the damsel in distress and waiting for her paycheck to arrive.

I should mention that the movie is actually quite funny, especially towards the film's third act, in which the filmmakers just let loose as Malekith comes to Earth, the site of the convergence of the worlds of the Nine Realms, to finish his mission. Gravity, space, time, are all bent and distorted, and it's a thrill to watch all the madness unfurl. Unfortunately, the comedy outstays it's welcome, in the form of Stellan Skarsgard, playing Dr. Eric Selvig, a  scientist who's gone mad, thanks to Loki's meddling during the story arc with the Tesseract. Look, movie, I've already seen him naked on a poster for Lars von Trier's upcoming Nymphomaniac, I don't need to see him running around in his birthday suit played for laughs, even if his dick is pixilated, and I don't need to see him in his underwear! Also, as much as I love Kat Dennings, man was she annoying as Darcy the second time around.

Despite it's faults, Thor: The Dark World is still a ball of fun to watch, and it sets up nicely for future installments in this universe Marvel Studios has created. Also (and as usual): make sure to stick around for the midcredits. It sets the stage for what is to come later on, and moving into Phase III.

** 1/2 stars out of ****


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