Thor: The Dark World Review
The lustre of Asgardian high adventure diminishes a little in this follow-up to 2011’s Thor (and last year’s Avengers Assemble too). Alan Taylor’s serviceable sequel delivers the epic action required from the latest entry in Marvel’s ambitious cinematic masterplan, but the story is awash with far too much pseudo-scientific blather and a vague sense of that-will-do plot laziness, which leaves little to savour beyond the visual spectacle. What worked in the first film still works now, which makes for an entertaining two hours for Marvel fans, but it’s a step down from Iron Man 3, never mind Joss Whedon’s breathtaking superhero team-up.
As is the wont of all fantasy adventures, a portentous prologue kicks things off, filling in the backstory of Malekith (a low key Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves, a mysterious race of creatures who existed long before the Big Bang and believe that everything that has happened since then has been one long, awful mistake; think of them as the universe’s equivalent of Victor Meldrew. One might be inclined to agree with them on certain points, but it’s doubtful whether they are cheerful company at any sort of social gathering. Every 5000 years the nine realms (of which we are one) come in to alignment, which would allow Malekith - with the aid of an ultra-powerful gooey MacGuffin - to undo the universe’s existence and go back to the good old days. Unfortunately for us, this just so happens to be right now, and London just so happens to be the focal point of this convergence and - how extraordinary is this? - Thor’s Earthside squeeze Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) just happens to be working in that very city.
Since we last saw him in Avengers Assemble, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, on whose broad shoulders the film’s charms largely rest) has been busy beating seven bells out of the other nine realms in order to bring about peace. Loki (the devilishly good Tom Hiddleston, who has made the character entirely his own) is imprisoned, but an attack by Malekith forces Thor to team up with his slippery adopted brother. It’s the sort of plot twist that regularly turns up in comic books: hero must join forces with regular villain in order to take on a foe worthy of their combined might (X-Men 2 did it rather well, and it looks like next year’s follow-up Days of Future Past will repeat the trick).
The film works best when Thor and Loki are in action together, firstly breaking out of Asgard and then taking on the Dark Elves. Hiddleston continues to have enormous fun as Loki, while Hemsworth is right at home serving Viking masculinity straight up with the occasional side order of tongue-in-cheek (look for the moment when he hangs up his hammer). The trouble is, it take a while to get to that point. Everything before it feels a little clunky and disjointed, as the script fails to gloss over its many contrivances and rusty plot hinges (do we really need another ‘alignment of planets/realms brings about end of the universe’ tale? 2012 was SO last year). The action lurches between London, with Jane accidentally slipping between realms, and Asgard, where Thor faces a choice between the throne and his girlfriend.
Director Taylor delivers action on top of action in an effort to paper over the cracks - the London-bound climax offers value for money - and the cast are good fun; there’s one or two very Whedon-esque moments which enlivens proceedings rather nicely. But as a sequel it feels too manufactured, too lacking in personality to stand alongside the best of its predecessors. Particularly disappointing is the short shrift given to Christopher Eccleston’s villain: with so little screen time or shading, he barely registers as a presence. The end product feels unbalanced and rushed: lots of noise but not much sense. It’s not enough to derail the Marvel juggernaut, which continues apace (make sure you sit through the credits), but neither is it the precision-tooled thrill machine we’ve seen before. Keep your expectations lowered and you’ll have enough fun to keep you going until next year’s Captain America 2.