Marvel Studios had enough confidence in Thor that before the first film had even opened, they announced a sequel was in the works, to the surprise of Thor’s director Kenneth Branagh. Branagh was reportedly interested in directing the second film, but the commitment necessary and the push to start the scripting process so quickly led to his departure from the project before he was ever really on-board, making this two-for-two in Marvel’s Phase Two director changes.
Irish director Brian Kirk entered into negotiations to direct in August of 2011, perhaps signaling a more sword and sorcery approach to the new film, given Kirk’s work on the first season of Game of Thrones, however by October he was out and Patty Jenkins (Monster, AMC’s The Killing) was in. Jenkins’ hire was instrumental in getting Natalie Portman to return to the cast, rejoining Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in an adventure that Marvel Studios president described as spanning the Nine Worlds and dealing with Loki taking responsibility for what he’d done and paying for his invasion of Earth in The Avengers.
Jenkins’ involvement didn’t last long either, though. By December she was also out, citing creative differences. Another Game of Thrones director, Alan Taylor was hired and we were off to the races. By June 2012 most of the original supporting cast was confirmed, although Joshua Dallas was forced to bow out of the role of Fandral due to his commitments to the television show Once Upon a Time. The role was filled by Chuck’s Zachary Levi in a strange example of Hollywood karma – Levi was originally cast as Fandral for Thor, but had to cancel due to commitments with Chuck.
Earlier in May, Mads Mikkelsen began talks to play one of the villains for the piece, but by July he had to pass due to his commitments as the title character of NBC’s Hannibal. By August the rest of the key cast was confirmed with the return of Kat Dennings and the casting of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Christopher Eccleston as the dark elves Algrim and Malekith the Accursed respectively.
Shooting began on September 10, 2012 in Bourne Wood, Surrey, England and then the production moved to Iceland in October, where Taylor had shot parts of Game of Thrones. The grounding of the look and feel for the sequel in more practical-effects fantasy settings was furthered by the inclusion of another Game of Thrones vet, Kramer Morgenthau as director of photography.
After a fast and dirty shoot, and the film went into post-production, a shift in focus was deemed necessary and Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins shot more scenes to help provide more Loki — because as pretty much everyone knows, more Loki is always good. New scenes were written and shot and The Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon was practically airlifted in to rewrite a few scenes. Once this was done, Feige stated that the film would essentially be the conclusion of the unofficial “Loki trilogy,” shining a spotlight on the relationship between Loki and Thor.
The film also provided our first look at what might be on the way with Guardians of the Galaxy (stylistically, anyway) with a mid-credit scene that introduced Benicio Del Toro as The Collector. It was a startling cutaway that really didn’t feel like it belonged in this film, as Taylor was very vocal about after the release. He recanted and apologized to Guardians director James Gunn shortly thereafter. Gunn was gracious and revealed that the short scene was shot in two hours at the end of a 2nd unit filming day, and wasn’t written by him, although he did direct.
And while a large part of the story seemed nonsensical to many reviewers (not ours, though), audiences didn’t seem to have a problem so long as Loki and Thor showed up, with Thor: The Dark World quickly becoming Marvel’s third most profitable film, bringing in nearly $645 million worldwide and edging Iron Man 2 out of the number three spot. This also set a standard for sequel financial success with each of the second installments in Marvel franchises breaking the $600 million mark.
The question was, could Captain America: The Winter Soldier continue the trend?