Thor: The Dark World Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
The first Thor movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh back in 2010, was something of an oddity: in a world where we were just getting used to our superheroes being more and more human, thanks to Iron Man and The Dark Knight, Marvel threw everybody’s favourite Thunder God into the mix and frankly baffled a lot of casual audience members with its strange mix of science fiction and Norse mythology. These days, however, everybody who would ever possibly be interested knows who Thor is and how he fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so The Dark World emerges in a very different time to its predecessor.
What all of this basically means is that The Dark World is a much different beast to the first film: its scale is much broader, and there is less of a need to bind the characters to Earth in order to ground the mythology for the more casual viewer. Indeed, we get to explore more of the Nine Realms than we did in 2010, and we even get a much closer look at Asgard, and it is to director and Game of Thrones alumnus Alan Taylor’s credit that he is able to give each of these Realms a distinct visual feel: from the dusty plains of Vanaheim to the scorched landscape of Svartalfheim, each one feels very much like a different world to the last. The sweeping vistas and landscapes are visually stunning, if a little CGI-heavy, and locate us firmly within the fantastical part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the movie’s benefit.
The premise of the film is thrashed out thoroughly in the first act of the movie: the Dark Elves, an ancient and evil race from before the beginning of the universe, are returning to the Nine Realms and their leader Malekith (played with some gravitas by a heavily made-up Christopher Eccleston) is searching for the Aether, an all-powerful magical MacGuffin which finds a convenient hiding place in a certain Jane Foster, causing Thor to bring her to Asgard for protection. The dense mythology surrounding the Dark Elves means that the film’s first act feels a little exposition-heavy, with lots of ominous narration about darkness and evil, but once that is out of the way the movie sets off at a rollicking pace, and remains genuinely fun for the entirety of its relatively slight 112 minute run-time.
A big part of the fun comes, somewhat inevitably, from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and his interactions with Thor: their relationship has changed significantly, with Thor no longer seeing Loki as his damaged little brother who needs help, instead seeing him as the devious would-be tyrant he really is. However, as their adventure goes on, you can see them falling back into old rhythms and starting to have fun together once more: the on-screen chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston is soundly proven at this point, and the two of them seem to be having a lot of fun together this time around, a fun which smoothly translates to the audience.
Elsewhere, supporting characters from the first Thor get much more to do this time around: Jaimie Alexander brings real pathos as Sif, whose unrequited love for Thor is obvious from moment one; and Ray Stevenson as the boisterous Volstagg and newcomer Zachary Levi as the dashing Fandral both get their moment to shine, as does Rene Russo’s Asgardian queen Frigga, and Idris Elba’s effortlessly cool gatekeeper Heimdall gets a fun action sequence as the Dark Elves attack Asgard. Only Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, the final member of the Warriors Three, gets brushed aside early in the movie and only returns for a very brief reaction shot in the climactic sequence.
Speaking of which, the final set-piece is a joy, filled with an impressive amount of property damage caused across London, some dimension-hopping action and a host of funny moments, many of them courtesy of Kat Dennings as Jane Foster’s intern Darcy, playing her part with comedic relish throughout the film, as well as returning character and Avengers alumnus Stellan Skarsgard as a slightly…different Erik Selvig. They didn’t save all the best bits for the finale, though: there are numerous fun set-pieces littered throughout, from a plan coming together that is assembled like a fantasy heist movie to some great action in Asgard under siege, all lovingly shot and assembled by Taylor and his crew
That’s not to say there aren’t problems with The Dark World. There is a definite sense that a considerable amount of Christopher Eccleston’s work ended up on the cutting room floor, leaving Malekith somewhat half-formed and a little two-dimensional where he could have been a truly chilling villain, and the rest of the Dark Elves are the very definition of disposable villains: they even wear face-masks that make them all look identical, Stormtrooper-style. The flatness of the villains is even more unfortunate when they are thrown into the mix with Loki, who dominates the scene whenever he is on-camera, and he just makes Malekith seem that little bit less dangerous.
Similarly, and this was also one of my major problems with the first Thor movie, the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor is almost inexplicable to me: she is constantly set up as a strong female character who has worked independently all her life in the pursuit of scientific answers, then a big hunky man comes along and basically explains to her the entire point of her life’s work and when faced with this situation she chooses to go all gooey-eyed over the handsome man. This was pushed home to me in The Dark World in a sequence where Thor explains a gigantic cosmic event in terms so simple a child could understand them, and Foster replies “I like the way you explain things…”: as a scientist, I can’t help but think she should want more information than that.
Thor: The Dark World is a movie with some problems, but fortunately these problems don’t take away from the fact that The Dark World is one of the most purely enjoyable entries into the Marvel canon, and well worth a watch for both hardcore Marvel fans and people who jumped on the bandwagon with The Avengers. As always with these films, don’t forget to stick around until the middle of the credits if you want a taster of a certain upcoming Marvel Studios movie, and to the end if you want a tiny tease towards a third Thor film.