Forget the ominous title and the fact that it is directed by Alan Taylor of television’s Game of Thrones. Thor: The Dark World is about as dark as an episode of He-Man & the Masters of the Universe. The sequel to 2011’s Thor is another of those likeable but lightweight comic book films that Marvel has learnt to make with assembly-line efficiency in recent years.
Unlike other recent Marvel directors Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and Shane Black (Iron Man 3), Taylor doesn’t put much of a personal stamp on The Dark World, a film carefully contoured to the Marvel house style. It’s a movie that hums along pleasantly enough for every minute of its two hours, but offers few surprises as it builds up to the climactic trashing of yet another world capital.
Thor: The Dark World picks up in the aftermath of The Avengers, which saw the Norse god (played by Chris Hemsworth) take up arms alongside Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man to fight off an army of alien invaders led by his adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But the temporary peace is about to be shattered by the reawakening of the dark elves, ancient enemies of Thor’s Asgardian ancestors. It’s up to Thor and his mighty mythological hammer to put an end to the elves’ apocalyptic plans to unleash a nasty WMD called the Aether on the universe.
Merrily zipping between modern day London and the realms that elves, ice giants and Norse gods call home, The Dark World is derivative but unpretentious. As befits the genre, Thor: The Dark World is filled with spectacular set piece moments (as far as city-levelling climaxes go, London is rubbished with playful inventiveness) and sumptuous CGI visuals. It’s presented in 3D, though the moments you’ll notice that are rare.
Thor’s home world of Asgard is a Tolkeinesque paradise of cascading waterfalls and shimmering towers; the Nine Realms he watches over are populated by creatures that may have found their way there from 1970s heavy metal album covers and got their weapons from 1980s cartoons. It’s a familiar mélange for anyone who may have grown up with the original comics, or Eighties fantasy relics like Flash Gordon and He-Man.
There’s not much depth or dimension in the lore behind this universe, no weight to its characters and their struggles. For a film that strides across multiple worlds, leaving many of them in flames and ruins on the way, The Dark World feels low in stakes. Still, if the choice is between the insufferable self-importance of, say, Man of Steel, and the charming frothiness of The Dark World, I’d go for Thor every time.
Marvel’s dead-on casting is one of the reasons that The Dark World works better than it should — its stars work well with the comical elements of the script. Hemsworth’s Thor — no longer the impulsive dunderhead of the first film — is good as a square-jawed hero of the old mould, a paragon of righteousness and virtue. He may lack guile and humour, but Hemsworth’s winking performance makes him relatable and amusing.
Thor is once again upstaged in his own film by his treacherous sibling, Loki. In his third outing as the character, Hiddleston finds new dimensions in the devious trickster, this time surfacing the hurt and resentment behind his thirst for power and his sneering barbs at his dysfunctional family.
Other supporting actors are a mixed bag. Natalie Portman as Thor’s earthling girlfriend gets little to do besides set the plot in motion in a clumsy contrivance and nag the god of thunder for never calling her; Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s dad, Odin, is also underused. And, as always, the comic relief sidekicks (a pair of science interns played by Kat Dennings and Jonathan Howard) are annoying, especially in a light film that has no need of them.
Thor: The Dark World trailer:
The biggest waste of talent, however, is one-time Dr Who Christopher Eccleston, whose role as the dark elves’ leader was trimmed back to give Loki more screen time. His Malekith is a one-note villain who is never really given the on-screen time to expand his motivations and establish himself as a worthy adversary for the Asgardians.
Alongside Iron Man 3 and the upcoming Captain America & the Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Dark World is a cornerstone of “phase two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps it will work better as a piece of this grand design — which will climax with another Avengers movie — but as a standalone film it feels inconsequential.
For now, Marvel’s formulaic mix of high-octane action and good-natured humour is still entertaining, but it’s starting to show definite signs of fatigue. If Marvel keeps this up for too many more movies, boredom could become the enemy that defeats its mighty pantheon of superheroes once and for all. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media