Even though it feels like we’ve had a brace of Marvel superhero movies recently, Thor: The Dark World is actually only the second ‘second sequel’ to emerge so far from the stable, with Iron Man having beaten his co-Avengers by 2 whole films.
Original Thor director Kenneth Branagh passed on the chance to make this follow-up so Marvel, as they tend to do, have gone for another unusual choice for director and handed the reins to Alan Taylor. Taylor has a few small films to his credit but has mostly been working on quality TV shows such as The Sopranos and most recently, Game of Thrones.
Perhaps the Game of Thrones connection is suitable though, as this feels much more like an epic fantasy film than any of Marvel’s previous offerings, with large amounts, certainly more than half of the film, taking place off-Earth, among the Realms of Norse mythology. Taylor builds on what Branagh established well, sweeping us through several new areas to the universe, backed up by impressive, if clearly CGI-heavy landscapes.
Following the events of The Avengers (and spoilers for that if you’re one of the few to have not seen it), Loki has been defeated, and Thor’s taken him back to Asgard for judgement. Odin wastes no time in imprisoning him. Things are not all rosy in Asgard though, battles are raging in other realms, which Thor is assisting with and he’s missing his earth bound girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman), though he still finds the time to get an obligatory, gratuitous topless scene in between the fighting. Making matters worse, some cosmic alignment is about to take place, leading to the release of the film’s McGuffin (called ‘the Aether’) which in turn awakens the evil Dark Elf ruler Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who’s hell-bent on destroying Asgard. By a rather contrived plot development, Portman becomes involved in the proceedings too.
So Marvel appear to be aiming higher with a deserved new confidence post-Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World succeeds on several levels in upping its predecessor, certainly in its mythology, visuals, stirring score, large-scale battle scenes and more standard superhero action beats. Unfortunately there are a few other areas in which it feels sadly lacking.
There’s nothing wrong in principle with making the Thor sequel with considerably fewer Earth scenes, but they also resulted in a lot of the first film’s best moments, particularly its comic ones. Nearly all the attempts at comedy fall flat this time around, even a brief scene featuring Chris O’Dowd, who was surely only cast to get a few laughs in a few minutes. Returning support player Stellan Skarsgård feels particularly ill-served, with more than one of his few appearances attempting to wring humour from his lack of clothing. Portman’s intern (Kat Dennings), who functioned fine as a comic relief sidekick first time around has also hired a desperately unfunny young intern herself now, who she rarely appears without. Only a London underground scene really gets a big laugh (added to perhaps unintentionally by anyone who’s actually familiar with London geography).
They do at least find a few more things for some of the other returning characters, Idris Elba and Rene Russo both get more to do in the Asgard setting, and of course there is Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Following The Avengers, Loki has become possibly Marvel’s most popular character and actor. There isn’t necessarily any reason for him to be in this film at all, but you feel they have to find things for him to do now to satisfy the fans. Thankfully they manage this without trouble, and Hiddleston continues to deliver his lines with obvious relish. Even as the film appears to be taking the familiar sequel route and have Loki and Thor team up to fight a mutual threat, which risks being unconvincing considering the constant reminders of his past actions, Loki’s always great to watch. The same can’t be said for the new villain Malekith. Buried under mountains of make-up, Eccleston gamely speaks mostly in an elfish language but can’t convey any sense of character, just coming across as a one-note villain, paling greatly in comparison to Loki.
Like most of Marvel’s superhero movies, Thor: The Dark World has its strengths and weaknesses, but it blasts through its running time remaining constantly enjoyable enough that Marvel will surely have another monster hit on their hands.