Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Markus, Christopher Yost, Don Payne, Robert Rodat, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 112 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Eons ago, Bor, father of Odin, vanquished the Dark Elves led by Malekith, who sought to return the universe to its state before creation using a force called the Aether, and contained the Aether, which cannot be destroyed, within a stone column. Unbeknownst to him, Malekith and others escaped into suspended animation. In the present, in Asgard, Loki is sentenced to imprisonment, while Thor helps win the final battle in a two-year war to make peace in the Nine Realms. In London, astrophysicist Jane Foster discovers an anomaly similar to the one that brought Thor to Earth and is sucked into a wormhole. It seems that a rare alignment of the Nine Realms is imminent, and at spots where the Realms touch, portals are created. Thor finds Jane and takes her to Asgard, where Odin realizes she is the Aether’s vessel, heralding a catastrophic prophecy…..
So here we are, yet another Marvel movie, and the second of the Phase Two movies. When I reviewed Thor, I mentioned how all these Marvel films seem to be distinctly average and never really soar like the best superhero films. Thor was not really any different. It was undoubtedly enjoyable, but just held back from really getting good. I also wrote how I was tiring a little of these movies [and not just from Marvel]. Since then we have had the three best films to come from the studio. Captain America: The First Avenger, Avengers Assemble [probably the best of them all, though truth be told it’s not as impressive on a second viewing] and Iron Man 3 [a rare case of a part three bettering parts one and two] were very strong efforts indeed, and it seemed that Marvel were trying a little bit harder. Sadly Thor: The Dark World is about as generic an outing as you can get. It’s not boring, but lamely rehashes ideas and images from loads of similar films without adding much originality of its own. Frankly, it looks like they barely made much effort at all.
We open with a prologue setting things up, and I guess the inspiration here was The Lord Of The Rings – actually, come to think of it, there’s quite a bit of that in this film, from the sets [much of Asgard looks just like Rivendell] to even bits of the music – but little of its quality. The prologue races through information at top speed and quick images of fighting and special effects are thrown at you, but it’s all so fast I personally didn’t have a clue what was going on. The intention was to get through all this stiff as quickly as possible, but the result is just confusing. The rest of the film, though easier to follow except when it’s being thoroughly stupid, is much like this. It speeds through everything, and while there’s nothing wrong with a fast pace, here it just gives the impression of a very convoluted story even if it actually isn’t. There’s little actual tension and many scenes just look cut short. The original cut was supposedly quite a bit longer and should maybe not have been shortened in such a manner, because this edit is a really cack-handed editing job. Some of the least interesting parts play out in a overly long manner while good intriguing stuff is rushed. I have a feeling this is more because of studio editing than director Alan Taylor, though the TV helmer [The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones] seems ill at ease directing his first Hollywood film, and a biggie at that. Many of the supposedly humorous moments, for a start, fall flat.
After the opening sequence we quickly fast forward to another battle, and we can thank Taylor for actually allowing us to see the action for a change, unlike Kenneth Branagh who, though he tried to bring some Shakespearian grandeur to Thor, decided to shoot its action in that crappy fast-cut manner [from the trailer, it looks like Captain America: The Winter Soldier is like this, but I’ll remain hopeful that it isn’t] that is the craze these days but just results in confusion and sore eyes. Another good thing is that this second solo Thor adventure boasts far more thrills and excitement then the first, which after the striking opening sequence decided to become a fish-out-of-water comedy [one that was sometimes funny, admittedly] and didn’t even bother to give us much of a climax. The action scenes in this one don’t show much imagination though, and are usually cut short. There’s a spacecraft chase around Asgard which is reminiscent of Star Wars but is certainly exciting, yet it’s over far too soon. Meanwhile the special effects really are a mixed bag. You’ll get some superb, convincing visuals, then a god-awful green screen shot or something. There’s a bit where a spacecraft crashes into a building which is even worse than that rubbishy train scene from Skyfall. It doesn’t help that most of the visuals are just borrowed or rehashed, like the whispery Aether whose like we’ve seen in The Green Lantern and other films. And for God’s sake how many times do we have to see a hole form in the sky to another dimension through which the baddies can come?
The filmmakers obviously thought the climax of Man Of Steel was far too long [actually, the main problem with that film’s climax was that it was dreadfully filmed, and it was certainly not the worst aspect of that piece of crap anyway] and decided instead to have a more low-key destructive brawl at the end that ended quickly, but they went too far the other way and it’s all over before you know it. Even the supposed twist to the sequence was done before, and better, in Jumper. There really is a distinct lack of imagination to this film, and yet it still tends to rely on special effects to try to take our mind off idiocies like Jane the heroine walking around Asgard as if she were on holiday, or a scientist able to quickly create a remote control for cosmic anomalies, or the character of Heimdall being very different from the Heimdall of the first film [he even has a different voice], or Greenwich underground station supposedly being three stops from Charing Cross – in fact it’s not even on the same bloody line. Even a good popcorn film requires some thought, and there’s precious little of that here. You’re just meant to enjoy the spectacle, but when even that’s mostly unimpressive one’s mind just wonders.
There is one major sequence, an elaborate variation on a Viking funeral, which is visually striking and is actually quite beautiful. It’s too short, but hints at a much more interesting and artful film then Thor: The Dark World. There are also some good moments between Odin and Loki in a film which only really takes flight [if limited flight] when they are together, fighting and bickering, though they are cut to the bone because God forbid you should have any depth in a film like this. I was unfair on both Chris Hemsworth [Thor] and Tom Hiddleston [Loki] when I reviewed the first film. Hemsworth has improved immensely as an actor and now really has the charisma and the charm the character of Thor requires, while Hiddleston’s understated slimy menace is very effective. The two actors are great together, which is more than I can say for Natalie Portman, who turns into a really bad actress whenever she’s in a film like this [Star Wars anyone?]. She just constantly looks like she’s acting, though at least she does try to act, unlike Anthony Hopkins who just seems half asleep throughout. Christopher Eccleston does okay as the main baddie, but his part is really poorly written in what is a totally by-the-numbers screenplay.
A strong aspect to the film is Brain Tyler’s score, which is his best yet with some strong themes and good, if unoriginal, action scoring. A few of the comic moments do work, and overall Thor: The Dark World is fun if you switch your brain totally and utterly off, but I reckon I’ll forget most of it by next week or at the very least mix it up in my mind with other films. It really seems a film made by committee to mark time in the Marvel Universe, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And the two end credit scenes? I would recommend you watch the first [it has a striking appearance by a certain actor] and skip the second. I was annoyed I had to bloody wait for something which they could have put in the actual film and would have taken the edge of its utterly dumb twist ending.