As well as all involved have tried to hide it, THOR: THE DARK WORLD feels more than a little fractured. It looks fantastic, and the key players bring their A-game, but the plot veers and lurches alarmingly.
Following the events of THE AVENGERS, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard bringing his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in chains. The Nine Realms are in a state of turmoil, and Thor is faced with the dual challenge of the beckoning throne of Asgard and maintaining peace as various alien skirmishes and attempted invasions take place across worlds. Meanwhile, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is missing her Godly boyfriend, and is researching strange astrophysical anomalies that might herald his return, as well as a new threat to the universe. That threat comes in the form of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of the thought-to-be-extinct Dark Elves who is searching for a magic super weapon, and has a serious grudge to settle.
The first thing that strikes you about the sequel to THOR is a newfound sense of scale. The first film kept business in Asgard to a minimum, but this time round we see much of Thor’s homeland, in addition to spells on a few rival alien worlds. There are battles aplenty between squads of aliens in shiny, hugely impractical armour, stabbing and shooting energy blasts at each other, and you begin to get a sense that the Marvel cinematic universe is far larger and more varied than you’d ever expect.
The next thing you’ll notice is one of the first film’s greatest strengths, the human element, is still present and correct. The best scenes still take place on Earth between Thor, Jane and the scene-stealing Darcy (Kat Dennings) – they’re funny, sweet and engaging. I still love Thor and Jane’s relationship, it’s still endearing and it certainly develops over the course of this film. You also have the added bonus of an increasingly batty Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who hasn’t quite been the same since Loki used his head as a taxi, and now has a tendency to remove his clothes at every opportunity. Speaking of the God of Mischief, Mr Hiddleston is still the best thing about the Thor universe, and is deservedly given all the best lines. There’s also a fantastically creative final set piece, which involves the destruction of a good portion of London and wacky bending of the very laws of physics.
Anthony Hopkins once again does a very good impression of Anthony Hopkins, and as always has the very best voice for a big chunk of expository narration. Eccleston, unfortunately doesn’t bring much to the table apart from memorising the Dark Elf language, and actually becomes a pretty forgettable villain overall. Perhaps there was more to his character before the re-edit, but he just comes across as evil for the sake of being evil.
What sadly hasn’t changed from the first film is that Asgard still doesn’t look quite…right. I appreciate that the filmmakers are trying to craft a distinctive and unique sci-fi/fantasy world, but it still only looks intermittently convincing. The imitation Shakespeare dialogue of the Asgardians can also grate after a while, and the script as a whole (great gags aside) could have probably done with a little polish. It’s here perhaps that we miss the hand of a confident, artistically distinctive director like Kenneth Branagh the most – Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor is competent, but his personality and vision rarely shines through, except for the interior Asgard scenes which all look like something straight out of Westeros. The film relies a little too much, and too readily (like The Avengers and the first Thor film) on a magic MacGuffin, which (of course) spells doom for most of the universe.
Talyor could also perhaps do with giving keeping a closer eye on his editor – the script re-writes haven’t exactly managed to blend into the background, and you can sense that some scenes were hurriedly exorcised to make room for more Loki, and the slightly clumsy cuts in the action sequences can make it confusing to keep track of what is going on. Perhaps they’ve made the best film they could in the circumstances, what with a last-minute change of director and some production troubles, but cracks do end up showing in the final product.
Thor: The Dark World is a decent sci-fi fantasy romp. It will keep you pretty entertained throughout, and is bigger and at least as funny as its predecessor. What it lacks is narrative coherency, streamlined characterisation and a clear aim. Unlike IRON MAN 3, which capped off its own story nicely as well as acting as a worthy sequel to The Avengers, Thor 2 seems a little trapped between the pressures of the superhero ensemble and its own continuity. I’d advise you don’t scrutinise the convoluted mythology too much, and if you just go with it, then you’ll have a lot of fun. SSP