Thor: The Dark World (2013)
It’s odd to think that a few years back Thor was one of Marvel’s riskier properties. Thankfully in 2011’s Thor, they got the tone and characters just right and sprinkled the film with some fun moments and genuinely funny fish-out-of-water gags. I suppose the one criticism of the original film is that when shaken down to its elements, Thor is basically the same film as 2008’s Iron Man in terms of narrative (cocky hero gets everything taken from him, has to undergo massive personal change to be worthy of the power he initially had.) Of the Marvel canon, Thor offers a lot more possibilities than most as it has a whole Nine Realms to explore. The Dark World ups the ante considerably and has a lot of fun doing it. It’s a blast.
“You must be truly desperate to come to me for help. What makes you think you can trust me?”
Taking place years after he first came to Earth and helped defend New York from alien invasion, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to our humble planet after learning that love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is in danger, possessed by a previously dormant ancient evil known as Aether. Dark elf leader Malekith (Christopher Ecceleston) also finds out about the Aether’s reappearance and vows to use it to restore the universe to its original dark state and exact his vengeance against Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the Asgard legacy. Out of desperation, Thor turns to his traitorous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to help fight this new threat to Asgard and the Nine Realms. The story expands on Thor’s world well and gives us a fun realm-hopping adventure, ranging from the rock monster inhabited Vanaheim to good ol’ 21st Century London. All the actors are on top form here. One of the things I love about Hemsworth’s Thor is that there’s no ego in his performance. He embraces the inherent silliness of the character and as a result is a joy to watch. Natalie Portman is somewhat sidelined, but manages to resist many of the damsel in distress trappings. She’s smart and capable and I could have done with seeing more of her. Christopher Eccleston doesn’t leave much of an impact as Malekith, but this is due to poorly sketched motivation rather than any fault on his part. Despite being the main villain of the piece, it feels like he’s barely in it. Eccleston does a good job with the barely-there character and made me wish he was better written so he could have something significant to build on. Talking point is obviously fangirl favourite Loki, who is focused on more than the actual bad guy. Loki is a textured, complex villain and Hiddleston nailed it right out of the gate. He’s still hugely fun to watch and it’s great not knowing which side he’s on from one minute to the next.
The film moves at a fast and furious pace, chopping and changing locations and storylines. Director Alan Taylor brings his Game of Thrones skillz to the party and as such the impressive battle sequences and general world building have proper heft to them and are certainly an improvement on the occasionally stifled first film. Unfortunately, the film fails to capitalise on these gains and contains a generic villain with vague revenge plans and little to no palpable beef with our hero. Malekith is angry at Odin’s father Bor, meaning that Thor inherits the rivalry third hand, rather than having any new and solid motivation to kick his Elven teeth in. Of course, Malekith kidnaps Jane along the way, but that shit’s so played out by this point, you’ll be forgiven for glazing over and checking the elasticity of your socks. The original Thor kept things nice and tight and only threatened a small American town in the arse end of nowhere. The Dark World puts the entire Universe in danger and as such it’s hard to get a feel for the stakes. The film is pacy to a fault and has barely any time for quieter character moments. Whole subplots are dropped at a moment’s notice (the Thor/Sif relationship for one) and it can feel like its in a rush to get to the climax. All the best little moments belong to Loki, including some genuinely fun banter between the two and an awesome cameo I wouldn’t dare ruin.
I’ve just this minute realised I sound like I’m slating the film. I’m really not. It’s insanely entertaining and another fine addition to Marvel’s ever-growing cinematic universe. I constantly complain that blockbusters are way too serious these days and The Dark World is the antidote to all that shoe-gazing poncery. It’s funnier than the first film too, with some cracking one-liners and gags to keep you chuckling in your seat. The fights are enjoyable and the final battle between Malekith and Thor is inspired and almost certainly the product of someone on the crew playing too much Portal.
I might be alone in this, but I felt the film had the horrible, sweaty stench of fan service about it. Loki is again the focus, which is fine, but I think it’s to the detriment of the film. My guess is a lot of Malekith’s stuff was shoved to one side so that the moistest of “Loki’s Army” fanclub have more bits of Jotunheim’s favourite son to make insipid gifs out of. Same is true of blatant fangirl insert character Darcy (Kat Dennings) who has evolved from “young person mentioning things like Facebook and iPods” to “fucking annoying presence with way too much screentime”. Some fan service is a given in films like these, but I think they got a little carried away with it in this one and as a result it’s a weaker film. Having said that, Darcy does get a nice callback joke that made me laugh quite a lot in spite of myself. I could have done with seeing more of the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three as well my personal favourite character, Heimdall (Idris Elba). They all get a token moment each, but they really could have spent more time exploring some of the more interesting side characters. Here’s hoping there’s an extended cut when the DVD/Blu-ray rolls around.
“It’s not that I don’t love our little talks, it’s just… I don’t love them.”
The Dark World is damn good fun. That’s enough for most people and I can’t argue with that. Despite being funny and enjoyable, I think it comes up a little short when compared to its predecessor. The story’s a little baggy and meandering and we have a villain who should be a total badass, but fails to deliver any real threat. A lot of the good outweighs the bad considerably and I am aware very few people care about narrative structure and all the other nerdy shit that I’ve been spouting over the past year. You’re damn near guaranteed to walk out of it with a smile on your face, like I did. There are not one, but two post credits scenes here, so strap a catheter on and lose yourself in Thor’s world once again. Recommended.