– Summary –
Director : Alan Taylor
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanombu Asano, Jamie Alexander, Rene Russo, Jonathan Howard.
Approx Running Time : 112 Minutes
Synopsis: Dark Elf Malekith awakes from his centuries long slumber to reclaim the mysterious Aesther, a source of immense power that threatens not only Asgard, but the entire 9 realms as well. Thor, together with Jane, Loki and their friends, must join forces to prevent the utter annihilation of the Universe.
What we think : It’s weird that the best part of The Dark World’s shenanigans is the chemistry between Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s mischief-making Loki; the film rumbles through its galactic action with barely a pause, there’s twists and shocks galore, and the stakes appear to be enormous, yet Alan Taylor’s solid, commendable direction feels more mechanical than organic, leaving the on-screen action flat and emotionless. The Dark World is entertaining, but hardly enthralling.
Get hammered again.
The Marvel steam-train continues to roll along, with Thor: The Dark World following on from Iron Man 3 with the separate adventures of the studio’s popular Avengers bunch; Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues the format of a self-contained story mixed with tidbits and hints of adventures to come, in particular with the brand’s now-expected closing credits stingers (which, by all reports, director Alan Taylor wasn’t happy with when forced to include one in his film by the studio prior to release). The Dark World returns the Asgardian Thor to our fair planet, the only man standing between us and global – nay, universal – annihilation. Typical day in Thor’s life, I guess. Taylor took over directorial duties from the departing Kenneth Brannagh, and there’s a noticeable difference between The Dark World and the original Thor, none the least in terms of tone. The Dark World feels more gritty, more “realistic” if that’s an appropriate word for a franchise based on God-like beings from other worlds, giving Brannagh’s gleaming-spire sense of magnificence the heave-ho, and replacing it with the darker tones of death, obliteration, and universal destruction. Whether this change in aesthetic works for Thor’s world or not, is up to the individual viewer – personally, I thought it removed a lot of the character’s clean-sheet royal-blood uppity-ness, which can only be a good thing, but what of the story and its impact on the future of the franchise? Is The Dark World a decent film, or have Marvel finally dropped the hammer on this one?
It’s been two years since the events of Thor. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has almost moved on with her life, dating new men (a sparkling Chris Dowd) while continuing to search for the energy signature of Asgardian technology. Jane’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), who herself has hired an intern, Ian (Jonathan Howard), have moved with Jane to London, where mysterious energies are springing up near Greenwich. Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has gone somewhat crazy following his possession at the hands of Loki in The Avengers, although in his madness he manages to lead Jane to uncover the truth behind the appearance of a series of inter-dimensional portals. Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is cleaning up the mess left behind by the events of The Avengers, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) cast into the dungeons of Asgard by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). When Jane stumbles upon a mysterious energy source known as the Aether, the inadvertently triggers the arrival of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a Dark Elf who harbors a particular hatred of… well, everything, although he despises his Asgardian enemies most of all. Malekith, together with his lieutenant Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), travels to Earth where they intend to take the Aether for themselves, and return the Universe to a state of perpetual darkness once again.
The Dark World has its moments. They are scattered throughout a fairly pedestrian core narrative, and typically for this franchise, there’s almost zero chemistry or believability to any of the characters outside of Thor and Loki, but the frenzied attempts by Alan Taylor to maintain momentum comes at the cost of serious character development in those we’re supposed to care about. The action and scale of the film is terrific, and production values here are in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from one of Hollywood’s preeminent studio productions, yet there’s a baffling lack of heart and soul to a lot of the dialogue and interplay between the key characters, and it undercuts all Taylor achieves with the story. London comes in for the focus here, rather than Thor’s low-budget small-town setting, so there’s a larger sense of impact when things go pear-shaped (and they do), but even so, The Dark World’s ambivalent narrative tone and inadequate emotional cut-through leaves a gaping well of potential that goes untapped.
This isn’t to say the film is bad, or even barely good, but it has some serious flaws that need to be marked off before we can get to the good stuff. The treatment of secondary players, such as the Warriors Three and Lady Sif, in Thor, was felt by many fans to be less than adequate; there’s even less for them to do here than before, with Sif reduced to pouting about Jane’s arrival in Asgard and huffing about as a potential love-interest of Thor, of particular note. The Warrior’s Three, who come across as Thor’s version of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, make for amusing stop points, but they’re barely fleshed out and provide little actual narrative importance. The story of Malekith and his historical set-up is well mounted and for the most part works well, but he’s either not sympathetic enough, or thoroughly evil enough, to work as a decent antagonist for the story. He provides a threat, yes, and he engenders a great deal of angst from the characters in the film, but he seemed more like the twin brother of Star Trek’s Nero, bald head and gristly physical appearance intact. The development of Odin and Frigga (Rene Russo) here seems half-hearted, with Odin in particular coming off as petulant and self-serving, rather than the all-knowing ruler of Asgard we’ve come to expect.
The Dark World also makes it abundantly clear that Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have absolutely no screen chemistry whatsoever. I mean, seriously, whatsoever. Portman and Hemsworth sparkle with a lust so icy, a rapport so frigid and an emotional connection so tepid it’s horrible at times watching them “cavort”. Exactly what she sees in Thor is never explained other than that he’s a hunky dude who dropped from the sky one night and now she can’t stop stalking him (he doesn’t call or touch base for two years and she still harbors a serious crush? Lady, give it up!). Thor’s fascination with Jane is never explained adequately enough either, and some dialogue early on only serves to provide a middling flourish of hunky romance, rather than anything concrete. Throw in Kat Dennings’ Darcy as the film’s primary comedic relief, even if she’s encumbered with the thoroughly redundant Ian to bounce off, Stellan Skarsgard’s laughable attempt to “play crazy” stealing much of her thunder, and a few throwaway lines of exclamatory fright, and The Dark World could be said to try and sprinkle some light-weight humor within its thunderous framework.
Yet the humor feels out of balance with the emotional weight of the Imminent Destruction Of Everything. Not that there’s much emotional weight to begin with, since the Asgardian policy of behaving like spoiled children when they don’t get their way overrides any attachment or connection for the more human audience watching. Odin, Frigga, and to an extent even Thor himself feel more distant this time out, beings of such immense power and knowledge that make us – you and I – feel small. Only Loki, personified by Tom Hiddleston’s immaculate performance, provokes an emotional response from the viewer. And he’s considered a villain as such – misaligned and misunderstood as he is. You have the question the fact that the most believable relationship in The Dark World is not Thor and Odin, or Thor and Jane, but rather Thor and Loki!
So where does The Dark World succeed? In scope and scale, and a sense of grandeur, this sequel outstrips it’s progenitor easily, and it delivers numerous thundering action sequences to keep the kiddies happy. Thor’s entrance is especially cool, helping the Warriors Three quell an uprising on Vanaheim, and Hemsworth has a formidable persona as the Thunder God. Sequences set on the titular “dark world”, Svartalfheim (which is as hard to pronounce as it is to type) are truly epic, while the Greenwich-set destruction-finale is exciting and fun. Watching Hiddleston act the pants of everyone else here is equally fun, although by the umpteenth reveal of things not being as they seem (Loki has the ability to cloak himself, and cloak others, in alternate physical guises, making him a formidable opponent) I began to think the writers were using this plot device as a crutch for laziness rather than a legitimate story arc.
There’s a lot to enjoy in The Dark World, albeit overlooking a number of glaring problems the film has as a continuation of Thor’s story, namely his frustratingly opaque relationship with Odin, played with obvious relish by Anthony Hopkins, and his “because we have to” romantic entanglement with Jane Foster. The Asgardian-set elements of the story don’t really mix all that well with the human ones, inasmuch as it feels like trying to combine oil and water to create gold. Thor’s overt power on Earth never feels genuinely interesting, perhaps because he’s become lost in the blanket coverage of the likes of Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. But the main cast, led by Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (and Natalie Portman, who has an thankfully larger and more proactive role in this installment) do a solid job bringing life to a fairly fanciful, cosmic-based franchise. Thor: The Dark World is entertaining for the most part, and casual audiences will most likely think it’s pretty decent, yet one gets the sense that the Marvel fanboys might find plenty to moan about here.