Friday, 8 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

Marvel is on top of the world right now, on top of the Nine Realms in fact, but even just ten years ago, it was hard to imagine that the prolific studios would have two of the five most successful movies of all time under their belt. Now, at the brink of Marvel's plan for Phase Three, the studio is back with the third cinematic outing from the God of Thunder himself, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Yes, there is a colon in the title and yes, the word 'dark' is prominent, but does Thor: The Dark World deliver or should it be called something more condemning like Thor: The Lame World but you know, actually clever?

I wasn't quite sure about the original Thor. No matter how much I wanted it to be good, I felt that it was far too cheesy at points, although the family dynamic was handled well by veteran director Kenneth Branagh, lover of all things Shakespeare. For the sequel, mastermind producer Kevin Feige eschewed the fish out of water comedy stylings of Thor for something far more authentic to the character's origins. In this golden age of TV, who better to direct this darker fusion of fantasy and science fiction than Alan Taylor, one of the most celebrated directors from the hugely popular Game Of Thrones?

Unfortunately for fans of the controversial show, Thor and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) don't take their relationship to the next level, although a family member does die unexpectedly in the second act. What Taylor does bring to the film though is a more realistic, lived-in feel to the world of Asgard, which looked decidedly cartoonish and too polished the first time round. Some of the battles between the Asgardians and their new foes, the Dark Elves, even evoke Lord of the Rings at times, despite the huge number of spaceships flying around using cloaking devices. While this may be initially jarring to some, the idea of exploring a mythological story through science fiction tropes actually makes sense, as advanced technology would indeed appear magical to inferior races i.e. us!

The slightly convoluted plot of The Dark World leads on from the aftermath of Avengers Assemble, following Thor as he tries to restore balance to the Nine Realms. Meanwhile a threat older than the Gods themselves resurfaces, threatening to plunge the universe into darkness. So it's actually kind of true when people inevitably describe this sequel as darker than the last. The script by Christoper Yost, Christopher Markus and Christopher Christopher - sorry, I mean Stephen McFeely - does a fantastic job of balancing the serious tone of the plot with moments of humour that genuinely amuse at points, even during the intense finale. One of the highlights for me was an ingenious cameo from a fellow Avenger which both surprises and amuses in turn. Geek alert!

Most of the humour is derived from assistant Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings, who obviously learnt something from her time on the hit comedy Two Broke Girls since her pointless role in the last film. Natalie Portman brings a more rounded portrayal to her scientist mentor Jane Foster but ultimately, Foster is still a pretty bland character, no matter what you do with her.

Think some of the humans are lame? I couldn't believe how flat the Asgardian cast were as a whole. Idris Elba brings a god-like gravitas to proceedings as Heimdall but Anthony Hopkins just phones it in as Odin, ruler of Asgard and general grouch bag. Oh and don't get me started on the Asgardian warriors. Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) is nothing but a Gimli wannabe, Fandral (Zachary Levi) has a bizarre British accent that feels completely out of place and Sif's (Jaimie Alexander) involvement in a love triangle with Thor appears to have been left on the cutting room floor last minute as it never actually goes anywhere. Poor bitch didn't get any!

thor lokiAnd Lord was she missing out! Ten minutes in, Taylor reveals a needless close-up of Hemsworth's torso and sure, we didn't need to see him washing himself down for the sake of the narrative but really, who's complaining? Hemsworth is the perfect Thor, both in looks and persona, which is a seriously hard thing to pull off when you think about how ridiculous the source material actually is. In the paper thin romance Thor shares with Oscar winner Portman, it's telling that Hemsworth is the more impressive of the two in a role he has made his own.

Hemsworth even compares well to the mighty Hiddleston, the actor behind fan favourite villain Loki but ultimately, Hiddleston steals the show with a portrayal that is funny, chilling and even heartbreaking at times. The sibling rivalry between Loki and Thor may not be the driving force of the narrative but the scenes they share are easily the most memorable, with witty repartee and touching moments of frank openness between these bitter enemies. It's a shame then that Loki is not in Thor: Dark World more, although you have to commend the film makers for not being lazy and just revolving another film around him. As the jewel in Marvel's crown, Loki is the villain to beat.

It's a shame then that the screenwriters ended up going with Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), ruler of the Dark Elves. All I have to say is that I sure hope his best scenes were cut out for the sake of plot development, otherwise that's pretty embarrassing. The film makers might as well have picked Lindsay Lohan for the role. It's not like you can see who's under all the makeup and the few lines Malekith has are mostly in some alien gibberish anyway. I'll admit, Thor doesn't have that many iconic villains in the comics to choose from but surely someone at Marvel could have done a bit more research. The Enchantress, Hela the Goddess of Death... Anything but Malekith and his damn face mask.

Most blockbusters live and die on their final act and while Malekith may not compare to Loki in the charisma department, the spectacle he brings to the final battle is pretty impressive. Taylor and the scriptwriters really outdid themselves with a climactic face off that sends the two enemies hurtling through numerous worlds as the conflict grows larger and larger in scale. Turns out most of those other worlds are essentially Iceland, but that's beside the point.

The surprise ending of Thor: The Dark World certainly implies that Marvel are keen to keep the franchise going and why not? Early figures suggest that the studio have another gigantic cash cow on their hands with this second installment and it moves the overarching plan for the cinematic Marvel Universe on nicely. Speaking of which, everyone knows by now to stick around for the end credits but those crafty bastards at Marvel red herringed (not a word but I'm using it anyway) a lot of people who were in the same cinema  I was in by keeping a second secret sequence back until the end. Admittedly, the second one is rather pointless in the grand scheme of things but still, it's there for the die hard fans if they want it.

The way each Marvel film ties in together is particularly gratifying for comic book fans such as myself but the episodic nature of this strategy may make these films feel too episodic for some, potentially reducing The Dark World to a stepping stone towards another Avengers film rather than an enjoyable film in its own right. Despite its flaws though, Thor: The Dark World is an extremely enjoyable blockbuster in a year of disappointments. Who would have thought a Norse god of thunder would be the one to beat? Just make sure you deduct at least one heart from the final score if you're not a superhero fan or were expecting incest of epic Game of Thrones proportions.


  1. Nice review David. Strange that we would get this superhero movie at the beginning of November, but still well worth the watch.

    1. Yeah the timing is odd although it's nice for fans of the genre, so they don't have to wait until summer to see every super hero film. Cheers for stopping by!