It’s a familiar Hollywood tale; as the follow-up to a surprisingly effective original outing, Thor: The Dark World tries hard to be bigger and better, and ends up forgetting what made its predecessor so enjoyable.
Thor was hardly ground-breaking fare but hit the pleasure spot through a strong central pairing; the romance between the attractive and engaging combination of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman was subtle and convincing and gave the movie the required emotional backboard for the action to bounce off. It also featured a likeable supporting cast and an energetic narrative, but the film’s biggest boon was the often hilarious interaction between Hemsworth’s fish-out-of-water mythical warrior turned mortal and the motley band of scientists he teams up with.
This time out priorities have shifted in a way that, admittedly, would make your typical fight-first, think-later ancient Norse warrior proud. The plot disappears into countless action sequences with the finale beginning at the half-way mark; the overblown closing section has our battling protagonists quantum-leaping from realm to realm in a CGI laden, worm-whole traversing, boundlessly wearisome conclusion. If that sentence was hard to keep up with, just wait until you see it on screen.
As the action ramps up, so the characters become neglected; Thor’s character arc in the first outing takes him from petulant youth to King-of-Asgard-elect, and this is where we rejoin the hammer-wielding hulk. He maintains a noble righteousness throughout that makes him a less interesting character than in the original film, but Hemsworth’s innate star quality succeeds in at least holding the viewer’s attention.
Portman produced a solid performance in the first Thor film but is wastefully diminished by this sequel. When Thor and Jane Foster are reunited after years separated all the sizzling, restrained, passion generated by the first film is squandered by a careless scene. Jane slaps him in anger for his absence, before heated conversation dissolves into aimless banter. A scene crucial for driving the emotional core of the film is completely misjudged.
One explanation for Portman’s lack of engagement in this latest Thor outing is her demotion from intelligent side-kick in Thor to wilting damsel in distress in The Dark World. A plot contrivance boosts her screen time, but her level of influence never exceeds that of a helpless Saxon maid carried off by plundering Vikings. Her only defining characteristic seems to be her willingness to slap Thor in the face on multiple occasions.
As in the first film, Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s malignant brother Loki steals every scene but once again is chronically underused; an opportunity sorely missed. Chris O’Dowd, appearing in a two-scene cameo, sums up the picture’s problems. A doomed date with Jane early in proceedings and an unexpected reappearance towards the finale raise a laugh, but the latter does a fine job of flattening the dramatic intensity. Meanwhile, the remainder of the supporting cast battle with one-dimensional roles that render them largely irrelevant.
Sadly, then, the series’ biggest strength has become its achilles’ heel: Thor: The Dark World shoehorns the comedy forcefully into proceedings, showing no sense of when a scene is supposed to be humorous and when it requires drama, opting instead to blend the two simultaneously within incoherent single scenes. Both films have a running time of approximately one and three-quarter hours, but the original breezed by, while this episode trudges wearily towards the finishing post.
It must also be noted that the pumped-up Hemsworth is objectified in The Dark World in the way Hollywood is renowned for treating actresses. The camera positively salivates at his half-naked torso in an early scene, while Portman, who is far from an ugly duckling, is made purposely plain. Later, while on the London underground, a female passenger gropes at Thor’s chest to regain her balance; a similar scene with a female protagonist and an opportunist male would surely whip up a media storm, but seems to be quite acceptable here.
One for superhero enthusiasts only.