See this review’s title? That’s a quote from the first Thor movie; joyously declared by our hero after Thor finds some (almost) up-to-par Frost Giants to wallop during its solitary decent action sequence. Ironically? It’s also an incredibly accurate way to describe the superior sequel.
Before this comes across as the cliche geek “everything before was garbage but everything right this moment is sublime!” argument; keep in mind that at least 50% of this movie’s quality comes from the casting; courtesy of Thor 1′s director Kenneth Branagh. Heck, outside of Robert Downey, Jr., where would the Marvel Studios cinematic universe be without Tom Hiddleston??? His interpretation of Loki is as unpredictable as it is mesmerizing. And fair dues to the talented screenplay writers: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, as they conjured up numerous story turns for Hiddleston to play around with. While not achieving the psychological complexity of Heath Ledger’s Joker (which, let’s be honest, is a ridiculously high bar); there is far more for Loki to express then sneer and /or insult anybody in his eye-shot. Providing a textured, well-rounded part for Loki is one of many opportunities that the movie confidently seizes with both hands.
Per that, I can’t go further without applauding director Alan Taylor’s vision of a “tangible” Asgard/ The 9 Realms. Thor 1 was rightly criticized for coming across as both artificial and small in its vision of other worlds. This film obliterates that criticism. In the first 10 minutes there is a fantastic outdoor battle scene that provides all the tactile realism the first movie lacked. From there, it expands that “grounded yet mythical” balance by introducing Asgardian locations which enable our heroes to express everything from revelry to sorrow. And it’s more than physical sets built to an appropriate effect; e.g. the grandeur of a throne room or the oppressive ambiance of a prison; but in parallel are visual effects which manifest a true sense of depth this time around. The story allows for sequences……..an air chase comes to mind….., which introduce the kingdom beyond the castle. Plus, smaller visual touches are welcome, such as the light which emanates from Asgardian weapons during combat, a soft reminder of the magic & science co-existence established in the first film. Not to be outdone either; locations on Earth, such as the climax at Greenwich, London look equally fantastic and add better fit the regal nature of these characters. Unfortunately the climax itself is fairly lacking.
More than once over the 112 minutes (it doesn’t feel as short as it is due to smart, economic use of story and dialog; e.g. Jaime Alexander’s Lady Sif is a standout with maybe 5 scenes? 7?) I wondered if this would end up being my favorite of the Marvel films. Yes, rivaling even the first Iron Man film or “Avengers,” but a ridiculous (how many times will things be transported???) and over-special-effect’d finale let air out of my sails. That said, by the time the credits role, Alan Taylor and his team have done more than enough to leave you clamoring for a third Thor film. A smart script (Thor solves problems by using his mind, not just bashing with his hammer!) combined with excellent actors and outstanding visual locations / costumes / makeup (Kurse makes for a wonderful visual as a monstrous villain) place this film securely on the “must see” list. Another (likely) deserved hit for Marvel Studios.