MCU Retrospective: Thor The Dark World
Welcome back to The Marvel Report’s retrospective series on all thirteen (soon to be fourteen) Marvel Cinematic Universe films! Over the last few weeks, we have covered the ins and outs of Phase One including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. Last week we kicked off Phase 2, beginning with Iron Man 3 — Marvel’s first concluded trilogy. This week we are looking at Thor: The Dark World, the Empire Strikes Back of the Thor trilogy. Similar to the first Thor, Thor: The Dark World continues to explore the worlds of science and magic, both on Earth and Asgard. The introduction of the Dark Elves, the history of the Convergence, and discoveries of Dr. Erik Selvig all continue to build out the mythos of the MCU, which I’m sure will soon connect to both Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. The film also introduces another Infinity Gem — the Aether — a significant part of Marvel’s grand plan, which has been unfolding throughout each MCU film.
Thor: The Dark World was released on November 8, 2013 — a few months after Iron Man 3, almost 18 months after The Avengers, and a little over two years after Thor. During the time between Thor movies, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) had been employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. and her mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), had begun experimenting on the Tesseract under the orders of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — remember Thor’s post credit scene? This led to the near destruction of New York, when Loki brainwashed Selvig and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to manipulate the Tesseract to open a portal to a Chitauri Army. Both Thor and Selvig played pivotal roles in The Avengers, which concluded with Thor returning to Asgard with both Loki and the Tesseract. Thor: The Dark World picks up after these events, with Loki imprisoned, Thor defending the Nine Realms, and Jane Foster working back on Earth with Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor was resigned to stay on Asgard, to do his duty, until Jane disappeared from Heimdall’s (Idris Elba) sight. Afraid for her safety, Thor returned to Earth, found Jane, and took her back to Asgard — where he discovered that she was possessed by a deadly force called the Aether.
The Aether, as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) explained, is actually an Infinity Gem! Ah! Those two little words that are slowly being revealed across all of these films. According to Odin, the Aether is the fluid form of an Infinity Gem, most likely the Reality Gem. Up to this point, we have only seen two Infinity Gems in the MCU: The Space Gem AKA the Tesseract and the Mind Gem AKA Loki’s Staff. I don’t even think they have been called gems yet until Odin mentions them. The Aether was being hunted by the film’s villain, the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wanted to create the universe as he saw fit and cover it in darkness. The discovery of the gem came when Jane entered another dimension and the Aether possessed her. She was able to cross into this dimension because of the alignment of the realms — the Convergence. Thor explained that The Nine Realms are a part of Yggdrasil — The Tree of the World — and can align every 5,000 years. So far we have only seen five out of the nine different worlds: Midgard (Earth), Asgard, Jotunheim (Frost Giants), Vanaheim (Warrior Hogun’s homeworld), and Svartalfheim (Dark Elves). The remaining four will likely be seen or mentioned in Thor Ragnarok: Nidavellir, Muspelheim, Alfheim, and Niflheim (Hel).
In addition to being Thor’s story and exploring his relationship with Jane and his love/hate relationship with the throne, Thor: The Dark World also continues to tell Loki’s story. During the first half of the film Loki is in prison. He is shunned by his father, neglected by his brother, and only visited by his mother, Frigga (Renne Russo). He is imprisoned, as you well know, because of what happened during The Avengers. Somehow, between Thor and The Avengers, Loki had been taken under Thanos’ wing and given Thanos’ only Infinity Gem, the Mind Stone. With that stone he stole the Tesseract, which I’m assuming was meant to be given back to Thanos. Clearly this didn’t happen — I’m sure Thanos will have quite the bone to pick with Loki either in Thor: Ragnarok or Avengers: Infinity War. Because of Loki’s reign of terror on Earth, he was imprisoned; however, he was able to bargain for his freedom when Thor asked him to join his suicide mission to extract the Aether from Jane and destroy it in the presence of Malekith. Loki agreed to help, which led to some amazing antics (he pretended to be Captain America) and some honorable heroics (shielding Jane Foster and saving Thor’s life). Loki’s motivation for helping Thor was driven by the tragic death of Frigga, who died saving Jane’s life. The scene where Thor went to Loki’s chamber and Loki was sitting in his cell, with bloody feet and a trashed room, was heartbreaking. Frigga was the only person who was ever kind to Loki. Loki fell valiantly in battle, just before the end of the film, seemingly sacrificing himself for Thor. His body was left on Svartalfheim, while Jane and Thor pursued Malekith to Earth.
As you know, the film ended with Jane and Thor using Selvig’s technology (and the mighty Mjolnir) to destroy Malekith and separate his body from the Aether. Jane returned to her research and Thor returned to Asgard. When he returned he announced to his father that he would rather be a good man than a good king, that he would mourn Loki and return to Earth to be with Jane. Odin accepted Thor’s decision, and as Thor turned to leave Odin’s chamber, Odin transformed into Loki! Ahhhhhhhhhh. I remember gasping in the theater during this moment. The film abruptly ended there, leaving fans wondering if that meant that Loki had killed Odin, or merely replaced him. The two post-credit scenes that followed showed two things: Thor and Jane kissing (no complaining here) and Lady Sif and Volstagg handing the Aether over to the Collector. This scene might be one of my favorite post-credit scenes of all time. Not only did it introduce Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, but it showed us his collection (which we would see again in Guardians of the Galaxy) and it told us the location of three Infinity Gems. First, The Collector asks Sif and Volstagg why they aren’t keeping the Aether in Odin’s Vaults, to which they reply that it’s not wise to keep two Infinity Gems in the same place — the Tesseract already keeping residence in the Vault. That means that the Mind Stone (Loki’s staff) is on Earth/Midgard, the Tesseract is on Asgard, and the Aether is with The Collector at Nowhere. The Collector then says to himself something so epic, so revealing, that still gives me goosebumps to hear: “One down, five to go.” THE COLLECTOR IS LOOKING FOR THE STONES! As we know, the Power Gem is discovered in Guardians of the Galaxy and sealed in the vaults on Xandar, and with Thanos deciding to find the gems himself in the Avengers: Age of Ultron mid-credits scene, you can be sure all of these realms will be under siege in the next few Marvel films.
Thor’s next film, Thor: Ragnarok, isn’t out until November of 2017. Next week in our Retrospective we go over another sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Though it doesn’t deal with Dark Elves or planetary allignments, The Winter Soldier does blow the MCU wide open with the reveal of Hydra, so don’t miss it!