The scope of the Marvel movies' "Phase 2" keeps getting bigger.
As we saw with "Iron Man 3," now that the Avenger superheroes have been well established, stories are becoming more complex. Characters are getting further developed (even, at times, in different directions). And possibilities for the rest of the phase leading up to "Avengers 2" are widening.
"Thor 2" puts together the different aspects of the superhero world, dramatic storytelling and good filmmaking better than perhaps all the other Marvel movies, save for "Avengers."
It starts with the acting. It's interesting to note that the Marvel movies have cast several Academy Award winners (including Tommy Lee Jones, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, and Anthony Hopkins). The cast of "Thor 2" doesn't disappoint. Tom Hiddleston, who reprises his villain role of Loki, might have a bigger fan base than even Chris Hemsworth's Thor. Loki goes through a strange emotional journey throughout the film. He starts the movie imprisoned on Asgard, where he grew up, but he doesn't shy away from showing his bitterness to his family. He despises his father. He shows both betrayal and spite to his mother.
But as he toils in prison, he becomes a shell of those devious duplicate images of himself that Thor no longer falls for. Get past the tough exterior, and there is a broken, confounded demigod.
As the story surmises, Thor needs to break Loki out of his prison cell and help. Of course, trust becomes the issue, though Thor and his sword-wielding pals (including the lovely Sif and the Volstagg) make it a point multiple times, and with great comedic fashion, to Loki that death would be his penalty for betrayal.
But mistrust, deception and lies are the name of the game in "Thor 2." Even Thor has a few interesting moments of role reversal with Loki as Thor is the one who uses tricks to deceive both his father and the main villain of the movie, Malekith, in one of the movie's key scenes. In fact, several climactic moments escalate via the revealing of true identities, simple tricks getting exposed or entire ships using cloaking devices.
The best trick of the movie, however, is the game of tag that gets played through a gravity minefield. This is when "Thor 2" feels most like a superhero movie, though ironically, the game is being run by non-superhero Jane Foster (Portman), the scientist who figures out how to manipulate gravity anomalies. These anomalies are created by temporal rifts in the space-time continuum—oh wait, wrong movies—space-gravity continuum due to the rare alignment of the nine realms. Add mind-blowing sci-fi to the list of attributes this ambitious film has. Seriously, there were a couple of scenes that were straight out of the video game "Portal," which allows the game character to hop in one portal and out the other in a completely different location.
As immersive as "Thor 2" gets, development and pacing of the story are important. Thor is busy fixing the nine realms while Jane accidentally makes a critical discovery as to the whereabouts of the mysterious element known as Aether. Though its inner workings could've been covered with a little more depth, the gist of Aether is clear: whoever possesses becomes very powerful, but at a great cost. Of course, Malekith wants to use the Aether's power to cover the nine realms in darkness so his race, the Dark Elves, can reign supreme. Here's to hoping the Dark Elves return, because they were awesome baddies.
The original "Thor" had some of the best comedy in the Marvel saga. "Thor 2" is darker in tone, but still manages to get in a few good clips of comedy without compromising the feel of the film. The laughs are not forced. Even something as simple as Thor hanging his mighty hammer on a coat rack was perfectly placed within the context of the film.
Where the great expansive scope of the Marvel movies is felt most, however, is perhaps during the now-expected end-credit scenes (there are two this time). The first one has Sif bring the Aether (which cannot be destroyed, only hidden) to a crazy man known as "The Collector." This guy is a bit eccentric, but who wouldn't be after spending his entire life collecting things from all over the universe to preserve culture and history of every species he can. The Collector better get an origin story of his own, because his story is fascinating in the comics.
After Sif leaves the Aether with The Collector and exits, he says to no one in particular, "One down, five to go," which refers to the Infinity Gauntlet glove referenced to in the first "Thor" movie that is the prized possession of Thanos, the evil red creature at the end of "The Avengers."
Marvel did such a great job with Phase 1, introducing all the characters and such, but Phase 2 is on its way to blowing that out of the water. April can't come soon enough for "Captain America 2."