CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgaard, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Jaime Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo, Clive Russell, Tony Curran, Chris O’Dowd
RUNNING TIME: 112 mins
BASICALLY…: A group of Dark Elves led by Malekith (Eccleston) threaten the Nine Realms, and only Thor (Hemsworth) can stop them with the help of former flame Jane Foster (Portman) and disgraced brother Loki (Hiddleston)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Making his third cinematic appearance in so many years, Thor has been one of the many breakthrough characters since Marvel decided to lump their biggest heroes into one filmic universe. His transition from a hot-headed barbarian in Kenneth Branagh’s origin movie to a savior of the world in The Avengers has been a crowd-pleaser if nothing else, and the popularity of his realm continues with his own sequel, Thor: The Dark World, a movie that delivers on promise of blockbuster fun and enjoyment but remains far from perfect.
Almost as soon as it starts, it is clear we are watching a new directorial interpretation of Asgard and the Nine Realms. Gone are the permanent sunsets and CG cosmos, and we get designs that look like they were on instant loan from the set of Game of Thrones, as well as a definitive daytime look with complimentary blue skies. New director Alan Taylor has used his experiences on that hit show to his advantage, creating a vision of this mythical/alien world that ironically feels more down to Earth than previous. Another wise choice is his decision to nix the awkward camera choices that Branagh exploited to the nth degree – seriously, those constant tilted angle shots only bring back bad memories of Battlefield Earth – meaning we can not only have a clearer sense of what’s going on in the action and dialogue scenes but also spare our necks from aching after tilting them for so long. Credit must go to Taylor for actually considering our body muscles as well as our audience interest.
Thor: The Dark World is definitely one of the most beautifully shot superhero films for a long while, with everything from the shiny and sparkly Asgard to the dark and gloomy atmospheres of Svartalfheim, home to antagonists the Dark Elves (more on them later), sucking you in with how wondrously they’ve been lensed. Another GoT alumni, cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau delicately uses the inevitable CGI to great artistic effect, refusing to let it neither dominate the frame nor slide quietly into the background at the same time. The CG itself looks fantastic, and even though it does present itself front and center for most parts there seems to be a good enough balance.
Chris Hemsworth now wears Thor like a glove, that’s how much he’s slipped into the role over the past three movies/years. Still being that dastardly combination of female eye candy and strong screen presence, Hemsworth has certainly come into his own as much as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans et al have in their own respective Marvel superhero roles. So much so, in fact, that it’s gotten to a point where you don’t simply see Chris Hemsworth as Thor, you see Thor. Any actor who can take a role like this and make it entirely their own without being recognizable in their own right is an achievement of its own merits. Not only that, but he still has some great comedic timing also used to memorable effect in both his previous appearances. One memorable example is late in the film, wherein Thor is forced to take the London Underground while onlookers awkwardly look on. Aside from the fact that Underground experts will most likely fume at the errors given in directions to Greenwich station from Charing Cross, the sight of a fully-costumed Norse God of Thunder riding the Tube as passengers bump into him is just as amusing as the image you are currently picturing in your head.
Once again, Hemsworth is backed up by a fine supporting cast. Most notably is the sized inclusion of Tom Hiddleston, also in his third film in so many years as Loki. As before, Hiddleston has a ton of fun in the role and remains as pleasurable to watch as Hemsworth, and again brings charm and likable charisma to a slimy and manipulative villain. Reports of additional shooting just to feature more of the character seem entirely accurate, since we see a scene featuring Loki before we even see Thor – that’s the power of character popularity right there! Also getting slightly more to do this time round is Anthony Hopkins as Odin, who may get no scenes of action and stands around delivering lines of exposition with a delightfully camp Shakespearian twang but at least he’s not asleep for half of the friggin’ movie, and in our books that qualifies as being given more to do. Natalie Portman, meanwhile, is fine as returning love interest Jane Foster but nothing particularly noteworthy. Like most film roles she undergoes (Black Swan being the exception), she’s just okay at best.
However, a price seems to have been paid with these characters being given bigger parts, in particular Loki, at the expense of others’. The roles of the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi, a replacement for original actor Joshua Dallas) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) – are greatly reduced, only becoming important during an escape scene during the film’s second act (fourth member Hogun, played by Tadanobu Asano, is removed almost entirely after an opening battle sequence). Idris Elba also returns as Heimdall, but is again not given enough space to flex his acting muscles, and save for a brief action moment where he takes down an entire spaceship his role sadly lacks in comparison with his much bigger action-orientated role in Pacific Rim.
But the biggest victims of an already overcrowded character ensemble are Rene Russo as Thor’s mother Frigga and newcomer Christopher Eccleston as main antagonist Malekith the Accursed. Russo’s character hardly registered in the first film, what with only two scenes of dialogue and nothing else, and while they did expand her role slightly here it’s still minimalist compared to everything else. When something happens to her, there is not much of an emotional impact from the audience because we do not know that much about her nor is she a major character set up in the previous Thor film. If it had been a much more significant character in her place, maybe the impact would have been stronger but as is it’s rather odd to be expected to feel for someone we don’t know that well, especially seeing how what follows is heavily dedicated to that one event. Eccleston, on the other hand, is playing a major character yet even his presence cannot save his character from being extremely dull and uninteresting. Put simply, this is yet another superhero bad guy who wants total world domination and has no other motives or hints of personality to back him up on it. This reviewer is not a heavy comic book reader so is unsure whether this depiction matches the comic’s interpretation, but even so Malekith ranks as one of Marvel’s most forgettable bad guys for a while. It definitely feels like most of Eccleston’s scenes were cut out of the movie, and any hints of a much more complex villain seem to have been thinned out to ill effect.
The film’s script is a little tougher to comprehend than before, and a second viewing is probably required to make sense of certain moments. Much of the film rests on the mythos of a substance known as the Aether, which we are never quite told how exactly it works and can be frustrating to some trying to work it out. It somehow works its way into Foster’s system, which causes her transportation to Asgard for most of the film, and strange anomalies occur around her which either don’t add up or are left unexplained (or not explained well enough). For example, a protective circle is formed around her that doesn’t allow her to be drenched by the rain, but it’s never really addressed and mostly used for a cute sight gag. Maybe a little more clarity on those areas would have been appreciated, but what do we know, we don’t work at Marvel Studios.
Fans of the other Marvel Universe movies will find some neat tie-ins and links – including what has to be one of the year’s funniest cameos – and seekers of eye candy will of course get their fix from Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Also make sure to stay in your seats for two end-credit scenes, one setting up a future movie and one that ties up a loose end as well as a fun sight gag that reminds one of Ghostbusters. These are just some last minute add-ons to an already entertaining movie that’s recommended for fans of the Marvel franchise everywhere.
SO, TO SUM UP…
We would say it’s “Thor-some” but we would be the 8,945,473,021st review on the internet to use that phrase. So instead, we’ll say this: Thor: The Dark World may not be the most sophisticated of blockbusters you’ll see this year, thanks to a confusing story, underused characters and a pretty weak villain, but it’s still a heap of fun with Hemsworth and Hiddleston once again bringing their A-game and a stable directorial vision by Alan Taylor.