After the critical and financial success of Iron Man 3, Phase 2 of Marvels Cinematic Universe continues with Thor’s second standalone, and first post-Avengers, film. The question is can Thor, like Tony Stark, carry his own film without it feeling like we’re just treading water until the next team-up of the superfriends?
Starting in much the same way as the first Thor, we have Anthony Hopkins’ Odin narrate the backstory of the eventual villains of the piece, the Dark Elves lead by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), and their quest to bring darkness to the Nine Realms. Naturally this is a thing that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must stop. But through a series of events I shan’t spoil he cannot do so without the help of adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) currently locked up in an Asgardian prison after the events of The Avengers.
As with Iron Man 3 (and Captain America 2 from the look of the trailer), Thor: The Dark World is freed up to tell more interesting stories now that all the character introductions and pre-Avengers set up is out of the way and the characters are allowed to breathe a bit more. Chris Hemsworth in particular is much more confident in the role, imbuing Thor with a bit more swagger and likeability this time around, but still able to shoulder the more dramatic heavy lifting. Fan favourite Loki is given yet more interesting depths and layers to explore beyond the out and out villain he was portrayed as in The Avengers, and Hiddleston looks as though he’s relishing the chance to be a bit more mischievous. The Shakespearean tone that permeated Kenneth Branagh’s first film remains here and the fractured relationship between the brothers is the beating heart of the film, almost to the detriment of everything else. For example, Thor’s relationship with Jane (Natalie Portman) is almost an afterthought and the Warriors Three may as well be extras. Worst of all though, the Dark Elves are disappointing villains and although the action sequences are spectacular, Christopher Eccleston doesn’t make much of an impact so what chance do the grunts have?
Happily long time HBO director Alan Taylor, who directs competently if not spectacularly (a criticism that could be levelled at almost all of the Marvel films), realises the inherent silliness in the concept – let’s not forget it is a film about a demigod with a magic hammer – and punctuates the more outlandish ideas and scenes with dashes of humour throughout, most surprisingly during the final battle. It makes for a much better film, one that is unafraid to poke fun at its own universe and its inhabitants; Thor taking the Tube is probably the funniest scene of the year in a film that’s not, strictly speaking, a comedy. Marvel Studios really seem to have dominated the family friendly blockbuster market, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s a shame therefore that the film is averse to taking any risks with the story, and as such there are no surprises (at least not story wise; there is one wonderfully unexpected moment that will elicit cheers from the audience). Characters whose stories have reached their natural endpoint remain in the film when it would have been much more dramatically satisfying to have this be the end of their arc and the events that set the plot in motion are a little contrived to say the least (Really? The one person to find the ancient evil device just happens to be Thor’s girlfriend?). As such the film feels very much designed by committee and doesn’t go anywhere new or exciting, again at least not story-wise.
The action sequences are second to none though, whether it’s giant spaceships advancing on Asgard, a monster filled prison escape or Thor and Malekith battling through various dimensions are never less than thrilling. And coming in at under two hours as the film does, there’s never any chance to get bored as the film zips along at a fair clip.
An enjoyable romp around Asgard, but one that feels a little too much like filler as opposed to something that moves the franchise on any.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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