The movie may be called 'Thor: The Dark World,' and fans are certainly buying tickets to see Thor and Loki get into some serious Asgardian action, but it's the women of the film who are really kicking ass. The clever Jane Foster, the warrior Sif, Thor's mom, and even comedic relief Darcy are dialed into the action much more this time around, giving them equal stature among their male counterparts and proving once again that when it comes to female heroes, Marvel does it right.

Perhaps some of the credit for the strong women in 'Thor: The Dark World' goes to Joss Whedon, who took an additional pass at the script and has become Marvel's MVP thanks to his stellar work on 'The Avengers.' Whedon knows a thing or two about strong female characters -- he is, after all, the guy who brought us 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' But Marvel films in general have often featured strong female heroes, from Black Widow to Pepper Potts in the 'Iron Man' films, the latter of who donned the armor herself in 'Iron Man 3.' These are women who don't need to prove themselves to anyone; they simply stand shoulder to shoulder with men and take action when needed.

'Thor: The Dark World' features a wealth of strong female characters -- or at least four strong women seems like a lot in comparison to the typical lack of representation of powerful, positive females on screen. While Natalie Portman's astrophysicist Jane Foster was something of a damsel in distress (albeit a proactive and intelligent one) in the first film, it's her scientific knowledge and quick thinking that helps Thor save the day this time around. There's still an element of a woman who needs saving when Jane is infected by a mysterious, dark entity known as the Aether, and while Thor is motivated in part by getting the deadly material out of his beloved, his real motivation is saving the world -- a notion with which Jane agrees. There's no fussing and crying over how she could die; these are two heroic souls who understand that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, especially when there are nine realms at stake. They risk their lives -- Jane, particularly -- to save the world from total annihilation.

Thor's mother, Frigga, also gets a bit more to do this time around, using her mischievous tricks to outsmart Malekith and his dark elves, and laying her life on the line to protect Jane, who holds the key to saving not one, but nine worlds. Chalk it up to a matriarchal need to protect or whatever you like, but the bottom line is that she too understands that this war is much bigger than any one person.

Jaimie Alexander reprises her role as Sif, one of Thor's most trusted warrior companions. It's Sif whom Thor trusts to break Jane out of confinement, risking her own life to get Jane out of Asgard and committing treason against the realm in the process. It's implied that Sif has romantic feelings for Thor, but the film isn't concerned with fussy love triangles and creating unnecessary drama between its female leads -- that stuff is honestly boring, and when you're faced with the threat of the entire universe being destroyed, there's more to worry about than some guy already having a girlfriend, even if she doesn't live in your realm. Sif goes toe to toe with the bad guys in battle, defends the honor of her leader and her realm, and can hold her own in any fight without some guy having to come rescue her.

And then there's Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings. While she functioned primarily as the comedic relief in the first film, here she gets a bit more to do. It's Darcy who gets Jane out of her slump and forces her to examine some wonky activity at an abandoned building, indicating that something big might be happening between the realms. It's Darcy who aids Jane, retrieving Dr. Selvig from a mental health facility (funny how the heroic scientist from the first film is now helpless, and needs two women to take the lead) and rushing around, setting up equipment to help fight off the evil Malekith. Although Darcy is still functioning as comic relief, she's at least helpful and proactive.

Without all four of these women, Thor could never save the day, and while the film is named for the beautiful guy with the muscles and the superhero costume, the truth is that a real hero needs all the help he can get and recognizes that he can't fight a war alone. Never once does Thor think these women need his protection; never once does he hesitate to accept their help. Like Marvel, he recognizes that they are strong and capable, and can kick just as much ass as he does.

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