Saturday, 2 November 2013

Film Review: Thor - The Dark World

Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Ecclestone
Running Time: 112 minutes

Want to know why Marvel is one of the most powerful studios in Hollywood right now? The simple fact is that they can balance quality and quantity to a tee. Thor: The Dark World easily side-steps sequel syndrome and builds upon everything the first film fell down on - and then some.

Ecclestone went all out on this years Halloween costume
In this second solo instalment, Marvel's towering Norse God faces an enemy that threatens to tear the glittering towers of Asgard apart; an old foe in the form of Christopher Ecclestone's Malekith has returned from dark space to destroy the Nine Realms and return the galaxy to darkness.

Things kick off with a extended monologue that delves into the back-story of Malekith and the Dark Elves. It's here we get our first taster of the films drastic tonal shift into darker, gloomier territory.

From here Alan Taylor steers us back to more familiar territory by shifting across to Asgard. Set after the events of The Avengers, The Dark World sees Loki imprisoned for his crimes and Thor off fighting wars all across the Nine Realms, attempting to restore peace. The film launches into battle almost immediately, a Lord of the Rings-style battleground the site of our reintroduction to Thor, Sif, Fandrall and Volstagg.

We then cut across to even more familiar territory; Earth. Natalie Portman's physicist Jane Foster is now working in London, on the trail of a series of anomalies. With Darcy in tow (Kat Dennings), it isn't long before Jane stumbles across something big, dangerous and hidden that'll draw Malekith out of dark space.

Hiddleston indulging on some Asgardian literature
between takes 
As you can tell from just that brief synopsis, the scale of this second film is vast in comparison to Branagh's origin story. We get to see a lot more of the Nine Realms only glimpsed at in the first film. With our characters, universe and mythology established, The Dark World launches into fantasy sci-fi adventure mode from the get-go.

It is noticeable right away that director Alan Taylor (best known for his work on Game of Thrones) has done away with Kenneth Branagh's shiny and golden aesthetic. The Dark World is, well, darker and looks a lot earthier. We get to see a lot more of Asgard this time around, and it looks great.

The film splits its time between Asgard, Earth and the titular Dark World. They all have their own distinctive aesthetic that breathes life into the universe. The end result is a gorgeous mixture of the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings and Stargate.

As with many Marvel films, it is once again the impeccable casting that proves to be the strongest aspect. After coming home first in Rush, Chris Hemsworth proves his quality as one of Hollywood's best up-and-coming lead actors. The chemistry that Hemsworth shares with Tom Hiddleston (who plays treacherous half-brother Loki) is infectious and it brightens up every scene they are in together.

Thor (Hemsworth) and Jane (Portman) return to Asgard
Don't worry too much however; this is not the Thor and Loki after-school special. The two don't band together and strike out on their own until well into the films two hour run-time. In fact, a lot of characters get their own 'cool moment'; Idris Elba's badass guardian Heimdall comes into his own, as does Thor's mother Frigga (Rene Russo). The latter gets an unexpected and awesome fight scene loaded with gravity.

Of course, there are still some characters who are tragically underused. The love triangle hinted at between Thor, Jane and Sif never gets off the ground, and that's a shame. Instead, I felt as though the latter was sidelined in order to make way for more Loki.

Likewise, Natalie Portman is again trapped in damsel in distress mode. She plays a pivotal role in the films narrative (both the set-up and the finale) but in the end, is underused. Christopher Ecclestone's villain is also very two-dimensional, his only motivation being "let's destroy everything because I'm a Dark Elf and that's what we do". That's not to say his performance was bad, he was just written very thinly.

A poster for Thor: The Dark World
The Dark World, like Iron Man 3 and The Avengers before it, has a searingly-hot script loaded with one-liners that will have the audience in hysterics. Not only that, but there are tons of sight gags to boot. Chris O'Dowd (The Sapphires, Bridesmaids) adds a dose of British wit to proceedings.

The numerous rewrites and re-shoots that plagued the films schedule are barely noticeable; like I said, you can kind of tell where certain plotlines have been moved aside to accommodate more Loki. But the film doesn't drag (in actual fact, it zooms by and is over before you know it). My only complaint was that there should have been...more.

The Dark World wraps up very abruptly and and your left feeling kind of pining for more exposition and a more wholesome ending. It's just the last 10 minutes that kind of let me down and lowered the final score.

The Verdict: 7/10

On the whole, Marvel's Thor: The Dark World is a bombastic and entertaining thrill-ride that improves upon the weaknesses suffered from the first film. It's flash, it's funny and it's frantic. If only they had slowed down the pace and fleshed some more of the supporting characters to add depth to go with the thrilling action and charming gags. 

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