Review: Thor: The Dark World / Cert: 12A / Director: Alan Taylor / Screenplay: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely / Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Chris O’Dowd / Release Date: October 30th (UK), November 8th (US)
As DC Comics dither or else fumble the ball with the cinematic exploitations of their superhero titles, Marvel Studios continue to knock it out of the park time and again with their immaculately planned slate of costumed hero action movies. Thor: The Dark World hammers home the advantage, leaving recent Dark Knights and Men of Steel grubbing around in the dirt looking tired, underwhelming and derivative. TDW joins and possibly even surpasses Iron Man 3 as the superhero movie of 2013; it’s bigger, brasher, bolder and a damn sight more fun than Kenneth Branagh’s worthy, pompous, low key (it’s the joke that never stops giving) 2011 debut for Chris Hemworth’s twinkling, muscle-bound Asgardian adventurer. Taking its cue from Marvel’s Avengers Assemble this a movie with a spring in its step, its tongue in its cheek and its money right up there on the screen.
One of the great delights of Marvel’s movies is the sense of interconnectedness they’ve achieved across the last few years, with each film harking back to the last (or earlier) and hinting at the next (or later). In this second solo outing for Thor, Loki (Hiddleston) has been returned to Asgard to face the wrath of Dad Odin (Hopkins at his booming best) to atone for his attack on New York in the Avengers movie. With his bitter half-brother imprisoned, Thor sets about bringing peace to the Nine Realms, but lurking in the darkness is an ancient, timeless enemy of Asgard - the monstrous Malekith (Eccleston), and his army of elves will stop at nothing to secure the terrible power source known as the Aether, which will give Malekith dominion over all Creation. Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Portman) has been waiting two years for Thor to return and she’s moving on - just as her ditzy assistant Darcy Lewis (Dennings) and the new intern (“my name’s Ian”) make a discovery which will bring two worlds quite literally together.
Thor: The Dark World sets out its stall from the outset with breathless battle sequences depicting the fall of Malekith and his elf army and his loss of the Aether at his moment of glory, sending him into a self-imposed exile as he regathers his strength, followed by Thor’s titanic struggles to save the realm of Vanaheim from invaders. Fortunately the film quickly finds its sense of fun as we’re taken back to Earth to see Jane playing the dating game (a glorious cameo from Chris O’Dowd) and, right across the spectacle and adventure which follows, it never really loses its sense of fun. The script, driven by newcomer Alan Taylor‘s zesty, enthusiastic direction, finds the perfect balance, leavening potentially heavy Asgardian God-stomping with zippy one-liners and neat visual gags (Thor considerately hanging Mjolnir on a handy hatpeg in Jane‘s flat being a particular favourite). But where Iron Man tends to get its humour just from Robert Downey Jnr, here everyone gets a look in and the chance to let a bit of light into the drama; from Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig and his determination to remain trouserless, to Loki trading whip-crack witticisms with the more stoic and square-jawed Thor. And of course it’s the relationship between Thor and Loki (and the growing bond between Thor and Jane) which underpins the movie despite all the chaos, carnage and good-natured (or maybe that should be God-natured?) comedy; they hate and distrust each other but ultimately they have to stand and fight side by side in the name of the greater good. And it’s one Hell of a fight, from Malekith’s Ark vessel ploughing into Asgard itself, laser-blasting soldiers chasing Thor and his group fleeing the stunningly-realised realm of Asgard on a zippy Stars Wars-like skimmer, to the final apocalyptic finale in Greenwich which does for London what the Avengers did for New York.
Some may sniff at the general perfunctoriness of the plot which basically entails a big super-powered God/baddy (Eccleston missing much of the fun in an unavoidably one-note role) trying to lay his hands on an awesome weapon which will give him ultimate power. There’s also much convenient scientific mumbo-jumbo which is pretty much a Macguffin to allow characters to leap handily across space and between worlds (itself leading to a couple of tasty gags). But the guts of the story serves not only to add flesh to the Thor/Loki dyanmic but to strengthen Thor’s bonds to humanity and point him in the general direction of his true destiny. The obligatory cameos and codas are all present and correct from one hilarious in-movie sequence (and we’re not talking the inevitable appearance by Stan ‘The Man’ Lee) to two post-credits codas, one of which suggests a weird and wonderful Marvel movie yet to come.
The Dark World plays with an infectious joy, charm and energy which can only have been generated by the success of the Avengers movie, allowing the Thor team to craft this thrilling, dynamic and occasionally laugh out-loud sequel that sets a new bar for the cinematic superhero genre.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10