The God of Thunder returns to the big screen in a new adventure that not only surpasses the original, but might even be the best Marvel film not titled The Avengers.

Since the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of Thor, the nine realms have fallen into chaos without the protection and intervention of Odin and the rest of Asgard.  Now that the Bifrost is repaired and travel between the realms has been restored, Thor and his warriors have been fighting to reestablish peace to the realms.  On Earth, Jane Foster is living in London, still keeping an eye out for the return of Thor.  While investigating an anomaly in an abandoned factory, Jane is transported to another world and comes in contact with the ancient Aether, an evil power once sought by the dark elf Malekith as a tool to return the nine realms to darkness.  Being infected by the Aether, Jane is taken to Asgard by Thor in an attempt to save her life.  After an attack on Asgard by Malekith and the Dark Elves, Thor is forced to join forces with his adoptive brother Loki and flee Asgard with Jane to stop Malekith and rid Jane of the Aether.

Overall, Marvel has created an amazing track record for their films leading up to and since The Avengers, with only two movies, Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, even remotely being considered disappointing.  Each successive film, Marvel has an even more daunting task to deliver a film that lives up to the legacy.  Thor: The Dark World was able to take everything that made the first film enjoyable, and even make up for where the first film fell short.

Thor: The Dark World, apart from being an immensely enjoyable film, is also an amazing visual experience.  Set design, wardrobe, special effect, etc. were all top notch, giving the audience a visual treat with every scene.  A complaint about the first film was the lack of Asgard, focusing the story on Thor being a fish-out-of-water on Earth.  This time, Earth takes a backseat to the rest of the realms, with Asgard having the most screen time.  The battles were very reminiscent of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but not in a bad way.  We have a terrific blend of futuristic technology and warfare in a mythological fantasy world, something I feel George Lucas tried intently to accomplish, but fell short.  Here, the battles and destruction seemed very intense and real, even for CGI and green screen effects, feeling like a fitting follow-up to the battles in The Avengers.

Once again, Hiddleston is the highlight of the film as the mischievous Loki (Image via Marvel Studios)

The cast is all back in full swing, with the exception of Fandral, this time played by Chuck star Zachary Levi in a so-so performance that was neither good nor bad.  Chris Hemsworth, though never a weak actor, has really matured as a thespian since his first run as the God of Thunder, showing great use of charm and authority in the would-be king.  Rene Russo is a much bigger presense as Thor’s mother Frigga, showing the audience what she truly brings to the table as Queen of Asgard.  Anthony Hopkins, though still an impressive figure, seems a little bored and was just thrown into the film.  Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif had probably the same amount of screen time as the last film, but really shined more in both action scenes as well as her jealousy of Jane Foster, making me wish even more that she were able to play Wonder Woman for DC.  Former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston delivers a good performance as Malekith, but any weakness of the character isn’t his fault.  The character was written very bland with no chance to really shine in a scene.  Eccleston is good in any role he takes on, but not being able to delve into the character’s personality was disappointing.  But once again, the true standout was Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  Spending the first part of the film in the dungeon, Hiddleston shines entirely from an acting perspective, reveling in showing the range of Loki’s emotions from mischievous, to gloating, to sorrow and loss.  It’s clear that Hiddleston has fun every time he gets to play Loki, and that enjoyment makes Loki the highlight of the film once again.  The only down side to the cast, if you can even call it a down side, was Kat Dennings as Darcy.  Just like in the first film, Darcy’s only existence is that of comic relief.  Not a bad thing to have here, just completely unnecessary at times.  During the final battle there were two instances of comic relief that stopped the flow dead in its tracks, one of which was from Kat Dennings.  And like most Marvel films, this contains a cameo from another Marvel production, a cameo that is truly the best and most surprising one Marvel has done to date.

Thor: The Dark World is superior to its predecessor in almost every way, and even superior to most of Marvel’s line-up.  In a season of serious films that are usually on someone’s Oscar nomination reel, we have a film that balances the line between great acting and a compelling story and characters.  This is a film that has something for everyone in the audience no matter their varied tastes in what makes a good movie.  This isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it is still one of the most enjoyable films of the year, possibly on par with Man of Steel.