photo: Marvel Entertainment
Many turn their noses up at the superhero genre, believing it to be unintelligent and frivolous. Sure, Thor: The Dark World’s storyline is nonsense, but Marvel prove once again that you should never underestimate their ability to entertain.
Alan Taylor was most certainly the right man to take over from Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor’s first cinematic outing. Taylor continues with some of Branagh’s Shakespearian dramatic quality, employing a threatening villain, family struggles, death and love. It certainly undertakes a much darker tone, especially with the terrifying Dark Elves led by the magnificent Christopher Eccleston. He is truly unrecognisable in the role. With some shocking deaths it is a turning and twisting tale that has heartbreaking scenes. The relationship between Jane Foster and Thor is well developed, as is his with his Machiavellian brother Loki, who is undoubtedly the best character in the film. To relieve us of all this drama, though, The Dark World is packed full of brilliantly funny dialogue that makes it a really fun and entertaining film.
Marvel always cast their heroes well. Chris Hemsworth does not just play Thor, he is Thor. Everyone is brilliantly cast, especially Hiddleston who is clearly having fun in every scene. Eccleston is brilliant as Malekith, the leader of the creepy Dark Elves, well designed with terrifying masks that leave their eyes black and empty. It is no wonder it was released the day before Halloween as they will give you nightmares. Asgard, the fictional realm that Thor inhabits, looks beautiful as always; its golden towers and rainbow bridge are magnificently done.
The Dark World really is as good as the first. It may have a flawed storyline but you won’t notice for how much fun it all is. Stay seated at the end for the mid-credits and after credits scenes which promise some very satisfying teasers.
And the bad…
The reason most of Marvel Studio’s latest cinematic outings have been so enjoyable is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s something inherently ridiculous about full-grown men and women running around in gimmicky costumes saving lives, even if they’ve somehow acquired fantastic superpowers, something Kenneth Branagh exploited to full effect in the original Thor. The mythical hero’s God-of-Thunder antics causing raised eyebrows in modern New Mexico was one of the best things about the original instalment. The other was Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s Machiavellian brother Loki, a character so complex and charismatic that he smoothly graduated to prime antagonist in last year’s crossover behemoth, Avengers Assemble. What’s sad about this sequel is that, for a good half of the film, there’s precious little of either.
Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor has taken the helm of Thor’s latest adventure. Although the choice seems logical considering the few generic strands of DNA shared between Thor and Thrones, this movie proves he’s lost without the sharp, character-driven scripts that propel HBO’s flagship fantasy saga, as we are forced to sit through a barrage of baggy, generic action sequences. We do get to revel in a grittier, shadier, somehow more authentically Norse Asgard than glimpsed in Branagh’s golden utopia, but Taylor has taken the paint-by-numbers sequel approach of making everything darker a little too literally by generating threat from a race of Dark Elves, lead by an albino Christopher Eccleston. The Dark Elves literally want to plunge the nine realms in perpetual darkness. It’s not really clear why. They just do. Eccleston’s part is notable for its complete lack of characterisation on any level, which begs the question, why cast Eccleston? He’s not even particularly recognisable under the prosthetics and voice-distortion.
The feebleness of this new villain is even more glaring when Hiddleston finally gets to flex his acting muscles. His and Thor’s Shakespearian relationship of brotherly love vs. betrayal outstrips the forgettable romance, although Portman does her level best here despite being demoted from kick-ass astro-physicist to medieval damsel-in-distress for most of the film. As for the rest of the cast, Anthony Hopkins is uncharacteristically bland as Odin, Idris Elba isn’t given nearly enough to do and Stellan Skarsgård makes a fool of himself for a good cause. Chris Hemsworth was always a natural choice for the title role (he essentially plays the same character in Rush to equally pleasing effect) but watching him slog through this dirge is somewhat depressing, and he suffers from some hitherto unheard-of accent slippage.
Loki’s return, a self-deprecating cameo from another member of the Avengers alumni and a joke-peppered final showdown refreshingly situated in London all help perk things up in the final third of the film, but by then it’s all too little, too late, and we’re left praying that the second Avengers film doesn’t suffer the same sequel-fatigue.