After a disappointing entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe courtesy of Kenneth Branagh’s lacklustre Thor, the superhero’s second attempt is thankfully much more entertaining.
Thor: The Dark World, somewhat surprisingly given its leaning towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s younger audience, has seemingly divided opinion. You’d expect something like Captain America’s imbalance of action-adventure and 1970s-inspired conspiracy thriller to create seismic shifts between fans but Steve Rogers’ latest adventure seems to have been given the “all-clear”.
Thor, on the other hand, continues to struggle in the shadow of his more charismatic counterpart Iron Man and the aforementioned All American Hero. While his seat at the table isn’t as far back as Eric Banner (also known as Hulk), or as indistinct as some of Marvel’s emerging heroes, Thor’s attempts to lend a helping hand in world-saving heroism, both in his own adventure (2011’s Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh) and as part of the Avengers in Joss Whedon’s excellent 2012 action extravaganza, have gone somewhat unnoticed.
He suffered from been the butt end of the joke in Kenneth Branagh’s poor attempt to bring the character to the big screen, while his one-dimensional characterisation in The Avengers made him the sideshow to his brother Loki’s main event. Third time lucky sometimes means exactly what it says but I don’t feel there’s much luck involved in director Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World. Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2, which can roughly be described as the adventures of its superheroes after their “origins” stories in Phase 1, the film benefits from Taylor’s clear understanding of fantasy-adventure’s component parts.
Whereas Branagh got caught in knots not knowing whether to stick or twist with Thor’s fish-out-of-water humour (the highlight of Thor’s first film), ultimately allowing the film to wilt under its own punch line, Taylor’s attempt is more clear-sighted. We learn that the father of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) once battled Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) over a powerful weapon known as the Aether. The Aether has the power to destroy the entire universe. On defeating the elves, Odin’s father Bor takes the Aether and puts it into a protective stone column. Unbeknownst to Bor, some of the elves, including Malekith escape and enter a form of suspended animation.
During the Convergence, a rare occurrence when the Nine Realms align inadvertently opening portals between worlds, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is transported to the Aether where it takes possession of her and subsequently awakens Malekith and his army. On learning of her fate, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arrives on earth to take her back to his home on Asgard. There, Odin warns that the Aether will not only destroy Jane, but the entire universe as well. Malekith closes in on the Aether, attacking Asgard and killing Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor and Loki’s mother, who tries to protect Jane. Swearing vengeance, something Loki (Tom Hiddleston) also seeks, Thor enlists the help of his megalomaniacal brother to lure Malekith away from Asgard and hopefully save Jane’s life.
Thor: The Dark World has a number of things going for it. The humour, although a welcome part of his first adventure, is diluted in order to develop a far more engaging good versus evil story with a villain built on genuine menace. Malekith, with or without the infinity stone known as Aether, offers a palpable threat, one that importantly offers a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for our hero. Christopher Eccleston is perfectly cast in the role of Malekith, the ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. His vampiric appearance unsettles with its dark reminder of a black and white Nosferatu, while his unwavering malicious intent, backed by a horde of single-minded killers, convincingly unnerves.
Adding to this is Loki, again brilliantly brought to life by Hiddleston with an air of English aristocracy and its inherent high-minded pompousness. He’s a terrific villain because he is one of very few who can authentically eschew a straightforward Manichean construction, offering that indistinct balance between elements of light and dark. It is to the film’s credit that Loki is again central to the story but instead of making him face-off against his brother, Thor: The Dark World sees the siblings fractured relationship temporarily repair itself under the guise of vengeance against their mother’s killer. The director, Alan Taylor, suitably frames this re-teaming of sworn enemies with a layer of ambiguity, never allowing the audience to relax for one minute. This not only provides some of the most tense moments of the film, but includes one of its best twists.
Indeed, Thor: The Dark World has an unpredictability about it that keeps interest levels high throughout. Moments of comedy (usually involving Stellan Skarsgård’s quirky Dr. Erik Selvig) are scattered amongst the action to add some welcome light relief without detracting from the main thrust of the narrative, while the film’s mixture of otherworldly adventure and carnage on our world (this time London’s the main setting for the earthbound action) neatly brings Norse mythology to a more recognisable, contemporary stage. While the standout performance again comes from Hiddleston, Hemsworth has grown (literally) into the role and has become an increasingly likable protagonist. This is all backed by some visually exciting battle sequences that have a tangible quality about them that belies the fact it’s all computer generated “bells and whistles”. Thor: The Dark World is undoubtedly an upgrade on part one in almost every way. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo
Released: 2013 / Genre: Superhero
Country: USA / IMDB
More on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
On The Avengers: Whedon in his Element as “The Avengers Assemble”
On Captain America: Winter Soldier: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Excites Without Ever Fully Warming Up
On Iron Man: Iron Man, partly through sheer entertainment but more so through quality, highlights the deficiencies of Spiderman and its ilk
On Iron Man 3: “Iron Man 3″ Achieves New Heights in Ace Marvel Franchise
On Thor: Director Kenneth Branagh Fluffs his Lines with Disappointing “Thor”
Luke Ostler and Simon Evans’ alternative view of Thor: The Dark World: “Thor: The Dark World” is for Superhero Enthusiasts (and Lovers of Mediocrity) Only