The superhero movie has become a goliath at the box office. Last year Avengers Assemble made $1.5 bn at the US box office and earlier this year Iron Man 3 kicked off ‘Phase Two’ of Marvel’s plans for world domination. Superhero movies are becoming an increasingly safe option for filmmakers, but Thor: The Dark World is a sure sign that Marvel aren’t afraid to keep upping the budget, pushing the boundaries and driving the increasingly repetitive genre forward into new territory.

Thor

Having directed several episodes of Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor was obviously more interested in making a sci-fi/fantasy epic than a superhero movie, and he makes that clear from the very start. The prologue, featuring Asgardians and Dark Elves battling on a blackened waste, is more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings than any previous Marvel film.

Thankfully, much of the action is based on Asgard this time around, which makes for a much more interesting setting than Earth, though the fish-out-of-water comedy works well in London. The world of Asgard is fascinating, huge and golden. The plot unravels quicker and quicker, hurtling towards its explosive conclusion. At points it feels like the kind of movie that the Star Wars prequels could have been, delving further into the blend of sci-fi and fantasy that gives the Thor franchise so much more potential for originality than any of the other Avengers.

The epic scale of the movie demands an equally epic cast, which The Dark World just about delivers. Heavyweights such as Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba bring authority and weight to every scene they appear in, while Eric Selvig has become a much better comedic character since going a bit loopy in Avengers Assemble. They provide good support for Chris Hemsworth as Thor, who is just as solid in The Dark World as in his previous two outings as the God of thunder.

Again, Tom Hiddleston stands out. Loki has to be kept in a box for the first half of the film or else he would steal the show – which is something of a shame, but an understandable decision. The best scene of the film is the crash landing on the barren world of the Dark Elves, and Loki’s faint, dry “Taaa-daaaa”. In fact, the only real weak point is Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. Despite spouting scientific terminology in every scene she’s in, Foster is actually pretty stupid. It isn’t Portman’s fault, she’s given little room to make Foster anything more than a damsel in distress. There’s also that annoying woman who can’t pronounce ‘Mjölnir’ correctly – that joke still isn’t funny.

Despite what the title might suggest, The Dark World doesn’t just get darker than the first Thor movie; it expands in several directions. Christopher Eccleston is a little bland as Malekith, but the Dark Elves are a sinister foe due to David White’s fantastic prosthetic design. The scale is bigger, the comic relief is stronger, and overall The Dark World is an improvement on Thor, which was an impressive film itself.

Although more of a sci-fi/fantasy epic than a comic book movie, Thor: The Dark World delivers on almost every level. The balance between the comic relief and all the gruff voices and shattering of worlds – the serious stuff – is well managed, and despite the fact that you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all before, there’s plenty of fun to be had. It was never going to match Avengers Assemble in scale, but it comes close and is easily the biggest and maybe best individual outing for an Avenger to date.