When Dr. Jane Foster gets cursed with a powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor is heralded of the cosmic event known as the Convergence and the genocidal Dark Elves. (IMDb)
Another predictable plot with a still insufferably lame Jane in the still mostly cheesy CGI fantasy land of Asgard (the funeral scene being a beautiful exception) is iced with enough good stuff to elevate it above its predecessor. There’s better self-aware humour (see the hammer hang on the coat rack; Thor on the subway), a pretty cool–if far-fetched–final action sequence, and engaging relational development between Thor and Loki (regrettably reversed during a stupid final-seconds twist).
Here we see our hero at his most anxious and out of control (see his panic attacks, bedside suit scare) but also his most focused and angry (see his workshop insomnia, challenge to the Mandarin); at his most technologically dazzling and powerful (see his army of suits in a great final action scene), but also back to his most humble creative roots (“I’m The Mechanic”). This strong climactic characterization, coupled with a brilliant turn (x2) by Kingsley makes for the best film in the MCU so far.
After a scattered first act, the film picks up as the Avengers gather; clashing egos (along with the welcome addition of Ruffalo’s mellow Banner) and growing feelings of distrust keep the dream-team motif grounded (though the Thor-Iron Man fight with Loki watching was dumb) while a jaw-dropping final action sequence (deftly managing to give each hero their shining moments) brings it to its apex of feel-good entertainment. A tantalizing epilogue and perfect after-credits scene end things well.
Steve Rogers, a rejected military soldier transforms into Captain America after taking a dose of a “Super-Soldier serum”. But being Captain America comes at a price as he attempts to take down a war monger and a terrorist organization. (IMDb)
The small (literally) beginnings of our hero (even post-serum, with his initial stint as a propaganda star) are uniquely compelling, and along with its gritty WWII setting, help create a welcome down-to-earth vibe for the first act. What follows is more of a mixed bag, with the villain throwing in some cheesy sci-fi, and the fantastic action sequences starting to ring a little hollow after he is never allowed any victory. A completely unexplained deus ex machina doesn’t end things well.
The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders. (IMDb)
It’s a little hard to get past the two wildly contrasting worlds, especially when the futuristic-space-viking one is saturated with CGI and cheesy costumes (though Elba’s gatekeeper intrigues). Story-wise, a decent arrogant-hero-humbled premise headed by the charming hunk Hemsworth (the supporting characters are largely forgettable) is weighed down by a cliche jealous brother/father’s approval sub-plot in space and a dull romance on earth (Portman’s strong scientist Jane feels cheapened here).
The good outweighs the bad in this sequel: The “new” Rhodey is meh, but the rough and reserved Vanko and the annoying Hammer are each uniquely entertaining villains. A messy script fumbles its multiple plot threads (the requisite Avengers teasers don’t help), but Stark’s increasing ego and decreasing health, along with his government clashes and sinister copycats remain intriguing, if neglected. Finally, the robot-loaded climax feels weak, but the racetrack action mid-way through is great.
On one hand, Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is a rich asshole, wisecracking his way through a self-centered lifestyle. On the other, he’s a brilliant and hardworking recluse who still puts his nose to the grindstone for his company. He’s a suitably complex leading man for a film that’s otherwise quite standard (though still with some great action) and his moral transformation–while a bit simplistic–perfects him as a protagonist while still taking care to retain the charisma we’ve grown to love/hate.