October 28, 2013 Leave a comment
As punishment for his actions on Midgard, which left New York in ruin and S.H.I.E.L.D. reeling from the resultant alien invasion, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is incarcerated in the cells of Asgard while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) attempts to restore peace to the Nine Realms. Meanwhile, with Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) warning of an approaching convergence of worlds, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and her intern (Jonathan Howard) visit a site in London where the laws of physics seem to have been suspended. The last time the realms aligned an army of Dark Elves — led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) — tried to plunge the universe into darkness using something called the Aether, and now that the phenomenon is finally set to repeat he is regrouping his forces for another attempt.
There is a scene towards the end of Man Of Steel, during the climatic battle, where the staff of the Daily Planet are put in harm’s way, and the stage is set for some mild peril. It’s a laughably inept attempt by director Zack Snyder to keep the audience engaged with the plight of the human race — the apparently sole survivors of a massacred Metropolis carelessly shoehorned between pixellated set-pieces involving Superman and some sort of space drill — and only serves to demonstrate even further the disconnect between film and viewer.
Compare that to the human element in Thor, Kenneth Branagh’s film about another God-like extraterrestrial, represented this time by anomaly-chasing astrophysicists Jane, Darcy and Dr. Erik Selvig. Not only are they fully formed characters that entertain whenever they are onscreen, an equal match for the Asgardian action taking place on the other side of the universe, but they are arguably developed and interesting enough that they could support a spin-off all of their own. When the film ends, you feel just as much for Jane as you do for Thor, if not more so. You couldn’t say that for “Jenny”, no last name.
The team return in Thor: The Dark World, this time working from Jane’s mum’s house as they try to hide out from S.H.I.E.L.D. (in London, for some reason — presumably not the abundance of CCTV cameras). We re-join Jane on a first-date with Chris O’Dowd’s photocopier, and despite following a pre-historic genocide at the hands of the Dark Elves and a Thor-led peacekeeping mission to rural Vanaheim it stands its ground, providing a moment of calm, comedy and humanity before the next dose of comic book nonsense. It’s a hallmark of Marvel, and a balance that both Thor and Avengers Assemble struck particularly well. The studio’s good humour continues to set the studio not just apart but ahead of its competition.
Not that the comic book nonsense doesn’t entertain in its own right; where Iron Man 3 was more of an experimental Shane Black movie than part of a shared universe and the seventh instalment in a blockbusting mega-franchise, Thor: The Dark World is only to happy to pander to the home crowd with in-jokes, call-backs and cameos aplenty. Game Of Thrones director Alan Taylor gives proceedings the gravitas necessary to distinguish the film from Branagh’s fairy tale origin story, but he laces even the darkness with enough humour to keep it buoyant and child-friendly. This is most true during the final battle, as Thor and Malekith fight their way around London: not only is it one of the most spectacular skirmishes of the year, but it’s far and away the funniest.
Hemsworth continues to boom beautifully as the titular God of Thunder, while his royal family and Norse chorus vie for any leftover ham. All is not well on Asgard, and the director isn’t afraid to put his characters through the ringer in the name of drama and development. Hiddleston still reigns supreme, however, stealing every scene he’s in as Thor’s scheming (adopted) brother Loki. Luckily, he’s absent for much of the first act, and that leaves ample room for Portman, Dennings and Skarsgård to shine back on Earth. Really, with the understandable exception of perhaps Ian Boothby the intern’s intern, the only characters under-served are Sif and The Warrior’s Three, though it has been suggested that there might be more of at least the former in a future DVD’s deleted scenes.
If the film wasn’t so entertaining it might be easy — and actually worth — pointing out the admittedly many imperfections. Malekith is pretty slight, at least in the film’s current edit, though his army of Dark Elves is effective and at times even mildly disquieting. Also of concern is the sheer amount of coincidence involved in getting the narrative off the ground — it is about as aerodynamic as Thor himself. The introduction of the Aether is particularly lazy, while the script relies a little too heavily on misdirection. There is also a bit of a lull in the second act; Taylor’s film is over-plotted and overcrowded, and while the logistics might never detract from the film’s enjoyment it does make writing a synopsis something of a challenge. The attack on Asgard must have been a nightmare to choreograph.
Overall, though, Thor: The Dark World is another success for Marvel Studios, and many fans may even see it as something of a return to form following the mixed allegiances of Iron Man 3. It shakes things up nicely, as you would hope given Taylor’s involvement, and leaves plenty in play for not only Thor 3 but the rest of “Phase Two” as well. Thor and mew-mew will return.