They named it Thor: The Dark World only because they couldn’t call it Loki Strikes Back.
But they should have.
Thor 2, besides improving greatly on its own catastrophically feeble, farcically dark and homeric trailer, is generally funnier, grander, and several shades grimmer than the first film. No, the story isn’t packed as tight and tidily, but Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) has wisely discarded Asgard’s rosy blush, and the action sequences are even a couple steps closer to convincing. Thor himself is more godlike but also more boring: a goldilocked, brawnishly beautiful, almost paralyzingly chiseled walking advertisement for vaguely Viking shawls. And braids. Who makes up for this is, of course, Loki–more interesting doing nothing than Thor is doing everything.
But just how many worlds better would the movie be (ahem, no, that’s not a pun) if it had taken more of its cues from The Empire Strikes Back (penned by Leigh Brackett (El Dorado) and Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Silverado))–the textbook script that obviously got everything right?
The answer: three.
First world: Thor and Jane, you’re cute, but in pill form, your relationship would solve world insomnia. Consider Han and Leia. Thor actually used to be out a lot like Han (back in the first movie when he was almost interesting): cocky, swaggering, self-satisfied, pretty darn good in a fight. You, O son of Odin, like Han, need to be taken down a peg, but please don’t ask me to believe that this rebirth came about through a couple tête-à-têtes with a girl who acts more like a petulant tenth-grader on laughing gas than an actual astrophysicist. Speaking of which, Jane, you could afford to sit at Leia’s feet a while. Sure, Leia is annoying (and because Carrie Fischer can’t act, I can only conclude that she was annoying), but at least she comes across like a genuine highness/worshipfulness/committee. Besides that, together, Han and Leia (yea, verily) have chemistry. But there’s nothing special about Thor and Jane together that isn’t just as special about them separate. Of course, Han and Leia’s “I don’t love you–oh, never mind, I do” story can be played as ham-handedly as any classic romance, but at least they understood that if you want sparks to fly, you’ve got to let flint and steel knock heads a bit. What if Jane really had moved on? Thor is Thor, but hey, two years is two years. Especially for a mortal.
Second world: Malekith, are you the Emperor (the master evil that turns the whole wheel, even though you don’t show up very much) or are you Vader? Because if you’re the Emperor, you’re not nearly scary enough, and if you’re Vader, you’re still not nearly scary enough. You have all the personality (but none of the terror) of a tornado that just wants to destroy the world because never mind a tornado’s malicious heart, that’s just what tornadoes do. Maybe that’s why you’re so ticked off. You’re so bored with yourself, you just have to go destroy not just one world, but nine. Nine. Because your skim-milk face is just so evil.
Third world: Never, ever, ever cut off the hero’s hand in the middle of the movie. That belongs in Act III where it would solve all the weird pacing issues and give the anemic climax a much needed gut-punch. What if Loki had kept fighting at Thor’s side till the very end, and then betrayed him? Not as a mirage, but really and truly betrayed him. For reals. And really and truly cut his hand off. And then served him up to Malekith. Think our hearts might beat a little faster to see our beloved god get himself out of that one? The Empire Strikes Back leaves Han in the carbon freeze and Luke highly traumatized and part-robot. So how about a double helping of evil for Thor and I promise you ticket sales for the third film will blast up past Asgard.
But since you didn’t, well, we’re still looking forward to the next one. Because Loki, see–unlike Thor–I trust him.