Still, it worked then, and, however improbably, it works again for the sequel "Thor: The Dark World," the latest continuation in the growing Marvel movie universe and a pseudo-follow up to last year's "The Avengers" (even though the movie features evil elves with Stormtrooper weaponry and helpful on-screen titles to let us know when we're in "Svartalfheim").
Here's a few more key reasons why "Thor: The Dark World" shouldn't work, even though it somehow does.
Chris Hemsworth has better chemistry with Tom Hiddleston than Natalie Portman:
Marvel fans have clearly enjoyed the bromance between Hemsworth's Thor and his scheming brother Loki, since this is the third movie now to feature Hiddleston's scene-stealing antagonist. After locking Loki away for attempting to destroy Earth in "The Avengers," this time the bickering Asgardians are forced to form an uneasy alliance to fight a common enemy. And even though "The Dark World" also reunites Thor with his extremely long-distance girlfriend Jane Foster (Portman), it's a lot more fun watching Hemsworth and Hiddleston get back together again. With Loki now seemingly freed from having to be Marvel's main villain, is it too much to ask for an Asgardian buddy cop movie with these two?
Its villain is an elf named "Malkeith the Accursed":
No offense to comic fans, but for anyone less familiar with Marvel's oeuvre, Malkeith isn't exactly a household name, no matter how accursed he may be. Played by Christopher Eccleston, Malkeith is an evil "Dark Elf" seeking revenge against Asgard for killing off his people (oddly, a recurring theme in this franchise). To do so, he plans on using a 5,000-year-old weapon to turn out the lights across the Nine Realms. As far as supervillians go, this is a suitably evil plan, even if it's not the most original one.
It's another movie that revolves around an ancient MacGuffin:
"The Avengers" had the Tesseract, "Thor: The Dark World" has the Aether -- an inky red and black cloud that can ... plunge the universe into darkness? To be honest, even after watching Anthony Hopkins' Odin read us the Aether's backstory from his fancy Asgardian picture book, it's still not entirely clear what it is, or what it does. Just that it can't be destroyed, only contained, and that, like in "The Avengers," the movie's plot essentially boils down to our heroes a) finding and then b) stopping someone from using some amorphous, world-obliterating weapon.
It's not directed by Kenneth Branagh:
Part of what made the first "Thor" work was tapping an unlikely name like Branagh to direct a comic book movie. Instead of your typical summer blockbuster, he gave us The Bard in Asgard, and all the attempted patricide and fratricide made him a better fit than expected. Branagh's been swapped out for Alan Taylor here, who's best known as a TV director -- albeit one who's worked on "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men" and "The Sopranos" (and as long as we're cherry-picking from his resume, "Sex and the City"). Taylor stumbles a bit with the pacing (that first hour is pretty slow), but he's more than capable when it comes to stewarding the movie's big action set pieces.
It makes no sense:
A lot of the plot in "Thor: The Dark World" hinges on under-explained motives and coincidences, like Jane initially stumbling across the Aether, so the script plasters over plot holes with healthy doses of both scientific and mythological mumbo-jumbo about convergences and anti-matter. That's not unusual in a superhero movie, making it easier to suspend our disbelief. It's a little harder, though, to understand why, in this interconnected universe that Marvel's created, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't concerned enough about an evil elf threatening to destroy the Nine Realms to even check in with a quick phone call. Maybe this all has something to do with the script's three credited writers (and another two for the story), but the first "Thor" had the same number of cooks in the kitchen; its plot was just much smaller and more self-contained.
The best parts are the fish-out-of-water jokes (again):
One of the reasons the first "Thor" worked, and this one does too, is that it never takes itself too seriously -- an extremely important factor when you're dealing with flying Viking ships that fire lasers. As it turns out, there's still a surprising amount of mileage to be had from watching a Norse god navigate the subway, or a coat rack. And this time, the writers double down on the fish-out-of-water humor by taking Portman's Jane to Asgard to meet the parents.
Its major set piece is the superhero equivalent of a Scooby-Doo chase:
Working off the movie's central premise of the Nine Realms converging, Taylor uses that plot point to his advantage to develop one seriously outlandish final fight between Thor and Malkeith that sees the two take their battle across various universes. In a genre that's running out of ways to innovate when it comes to epic CGI spectacle, the portal-hopping brawl is a clever change of pace, even if it's essentially the equivalent of watching Scooby and the gang chase ghosts in and out of all those hallway doors. Somehow though, that isn't a criticism; instead, it's hands-down the best part of the movie.
Sequels can be rough, even for Marvel:
See: "Iron Man 2," and every other sequel that ended up feeling relentlessly downbeat and out-of-step with the tone that made the first movie work. "Thor: The Dark World" is certainly bleak at times, but successfully manages to balance that darkness with some much-needed humor. The movie may be far from perfect, but it still ends up being another solidly entertaining entry in the growing Marvel movie universe -- and much better than it ostensibly should be.
"Thor: The Dark World" opens in theatres on November 8.