I’m not sure what the theme was, but the fantasy/action plot was suitably, um, suitable for a superficially fun fantasy/action movie, there were some good laughs, and although the dialog was somewhat predictable, it didn’t sound cardboardy—except when it was describing the evil magical stuff.
Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
My Beat Sheet for Thor: The Dark World
The dark elves lose a battle and the good guys hide the their evil power stuff, but a couple of the dark elves survive, their desire to extinguish the lights of the universe all the more powerful for their loss. (The prologue was perhaps ridiculous but at least it was not so very ridiculously long.)
Anthony Hopkins explains that a day without sunshine is like… night. Thus an eternity without sunshine would be like eternal night.
Thor has brought peace to the nine realms in the wake of the chaos from some other movie. Thor’s father, Odin, who has locked Thor’s foster brother Loki up in the dungeon for being his tricksy self, is proud of Thor, wants to prepare him to rule, and wants him to hook up with some Asgardian wonder warrior, but all Thor can think about is the Earthling Jane Foster, who is on a hilariously awkward date but still hopes Thor will come back for her. Meanwhile, a pantsless physicist has noticed some weird stuff going on in the universe, and his acolytes are investigating. It’s a result of the convergence, a doesn’t-happen-very-often event that also just happened in Tomb Raider, when the nine realms align and special stuff is possible that normally isn’t.
Jane’s friend rescues her from the date and takes her to an anomaly at an abandoned warehouse. They have fun watching stuff disappear and sometimes reappear, until the Jane’s friend’s intern drops the car keys and they stay gone, and Jane gets sucked into the hiding place of the evil red-and-black liquid metal aether, where it infects her. Then she is suddenly returned to Earth.
Thor, whose all-seeing friend lost sight of Jane when she went to wherever the aether had been hidden, shows up on Earth in a panic and takes Jane to Asgard after realizing she’s “not well”. Asgardian healers explain that she’s doomed. Thor wants to cure her. Odin doesn’t care that Jane’s short life is going to be cut slightly shorter, and is confident the dark elves who sought the aether are all dead. However, the remaining dark elves were awakened when the aether infected Jane. They can sense where it is, so they show up and attack Asgard, coincidentally at the same time some bad guys break out of the dungeons. Thor’s mother is killed, partly thanks to Loki. Odin wants to keep fighting the technically superior dark elves even if every one of his soldiers dies in the battle, kind of like Cao Cao, but Thor wants to think different and fight smart.
Break into Two
Thor and his buddies, against Odin’s wishes, make a plan to take Jane away from Asgard. The plan requires freeing Loki and using his secret escape portal. Thor, straightforward guy that he is, decides to sorta-kinda trust him, but no more than necessary.
B Story / Fun and Games
Loki uses illusions to tease Thor, who puts him in handcuffs. Thor’s all-seeing friend distracts Odin. Wonder warrior and a guy with a beard guard Thor, Loki and Jane’s retreat to the dark elf ship that crashed into the throne room. Thor flies it into the bay, with all of Asgard shooting it, and then team Thor jumps out and flies to Loki’s secret portal, having some words about trust along the way.
Loki betrays Thor and gives Jane to the dark elves. But wait, he was just pretending! It was a show arranged in advance. Team Thor just wanted the dark elves to take the aether out of Jane so Thor could smash it and save the universe. Hang on a minute, this is just the midpoint. Way too soon to succeed at saving the universe. Smashing the aether hasn’t destroyed it. It just regroups and the main dark elf takes control of it. Battle ensues.
Bad Guys Close In / All Is Lost / Dark Night of the Soul
Loki saves Thor from the dark elves and then dies honorably, which makes Thor proud but sad. The dark elves now have the aether, and Thor is stuck on their planet while they go off to attack the universe during the convergence.
Break into Three
Jane’s mobile phone rings. It’s that guy she was almost dating, who says he had a “crazy day” at the office, haha. The phone call indicates the presence of a nearby anomaly that can take Jane and Thor back to Earth. A soda can—and, TA-DA! the previously mentioned lost car keys—also indicate that they’re in the right place.
On Earth, the physicist has been sprung from a mental hospital where Stan Lee does his cameo. Jane, Jane’s friend, the intern, and the physicist (again sans pants but not naked) deduce that the place from which the dark elves will use the convergence to attack the nine realms is Greenwich, England, a location that is particularly significant in matters of time, since that’s where the Prime Meridian is.
The dark elves’ ship shows up at a place on the campus of the University of Greenwich that looks more like the Prime Meridian than the actual Prime Meridian, which is nearby but wasn’t shown in the film. The humans do science and try not to die while Thor battles the dark elf, falling and flying all over London and the nine realms in the process. The British military sends a couple of planes to shoot at the alien ship. A CGI dinosaur thing from another realm warps in. The intern saves the life of Jane’s friend and wins her affections by throwing a gravitationally-challenged automobile at some dark elves, crushing them. Thor somehow wins the battle using human science equipment. Then he almost dies when the ship starts to fall on the quad where he is lying incapacitated, but the humans send the ship through an anomaly back to the dark world, where it falls on the bad guy.
Jane, whose most interesting act in the movie was to answer an interdimensional phone call, is again pining for Thor, who may be stuck in Asgard for having committed treason. Actually, Thor has renounced the throne of Asgard because he’s a man of action, and ruling does not become him. Unfortunately, the whole time he thought he was speaking to his father, he was actually speaking to Loki, who is (perhaps unsurprisingly) not dead after all.
The Collector is given something to protect: it’s the aether—or it’s an infinity stone—wait, I got it, the aether *is* an infinity stone. Anyway, he promises to keep it safe, but actually he just want to, um, collect as much power as he can.
Thor returns to Earth for Jane! The CGI dinosaur thing is still wandering around Earth.
The Dark World: What is it even about?
Brotherhood? Trust? Box office dollars? Yeah, that must be it.
For sure it’s not about Thor and Jane, even though Natalie Portman is front-and-center on the cover there. Her character just gets shuttled around. She carries the McGuffin for a while, and that’s it, really.
The bad guys have no reason to be bad, other than… they’re bad. They are dark elves, and they like darkness. They like it so much that they want more of it. Everywhere. This passes for motivation.
I’m not surprised that the movie made money and I’m not surprised it got mixed reviews. It was beautiful, exciting, and entertaining—but not deep.