Thor: The Dark World REVIEW

Thor: The Dark World review.

Hammering it home…

Release Date: 30 October 2013
12A | 112 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston

By Odin’s beard, this is an insane gumbo of a movie.

It’s not just the collision of high fantasy and pulp SF, all those swords and shields pitched against screaming laserbolts, like The Lord Of The Rings picking a pub fight with Star Wars. We can take that as read. This is a sequel that goes even further, lurching between mythic drama and metropolitan rom-com, between golden realms of legend and a grim industrial estate in London. It slams the tragedies of gods up against gags about ringtones. And then it lobs in a comedy pair of Y-fronts. And Elvish, with subtitles. And that guy from The IT Crowd. Dizzy yet?

It’s a relentless clash of tones and flavours, like a madman smashing genres together in a particle accelerator. The good news? It works. Thor: The Dark World is a prime piece of pop candy, a witty, flashy, unflaggingly entertaining addition to the Marvel canon, light on its feet in spite of its cosmic sprawl.

It begins Biblically. “Long before the light there was darkness,” declares Anthony Hopkins, Asgardian god of exposition, in his best Welsh baptist chapel voice. We witness a primordial war between the Norse gods and the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, battling for possession of the film’s MacGuffin, the Aether – “an ancient force of destruction” with the power to plunge the universe into darkness (note to universe: this is A Very Bad Thing). Fast-forward through the millennia and the Dark Elves are the stuff of Asgard’s storybooks, for even legends have legends. Now the cosmos approaches the time of convergence, a portentous “alignment of the worlds”. With immaculate timing, Malekith, leader of the Elves, reawakens, the Aether in his sights once more…

We’re reintroduced to Thor mid-battle – hammer first, naturally. It’s a more mature thunder god we encounter here, clearly seasoned by the events of The Avengers. He is, perhaps, just a little less fun, and you may miss the boisterous jackass of the first film. Our storm-summoning hero is soon reunited with Portman’s Jane Foster, who’s dabbling in the dating scene with a twinkly Chris O’Dowd but clearly still besotted by her slab of celestial sirloin. Chris Hemsworth plays ripped romantic lead with his usual winning sincerity and has the grace to realise he functions best as straight man. One of the film’s funniest scenes finds him awkwardly boarding a tube train in all his regal, heroic pomp.

Hemsworth may be the nominal topliner but he also knows he’s sharing his film with a master thief. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston floods the screen with charisma, all imp-smirk and languid menace. He has the debauched appeal of a minor romantic poet craving ruination but there’s a convincing darkness in there too, flipping from foppish mischief to chilling rage in a heartbeat. Hiddleston remains one of Marvel’s major weapons and The Dark World knows it, revels in it. It’s as if the trickster god himself has peered beyond the screen and discovered, to his inestimable joy, that he’s now the tumblr idol for discerning fangirls everywhere.

As the Nine Worlds align, Loki and Thor form an amusingly jittery alliance and take the fight to the Dark Elves. Christopher Eccleston is Malekith and he’s good here: impassive, imperious, his fine-boned face all malevolent geometry as he spits “I will put an end to this poisoned universe!” In truth he’s a generic villain in search of a better story but Eccleston imbues him with an unearthly ice that’s never less than compelling.

Thor: The Dark World

“I wish I could find the other half of my sunglasses.”

The battle climaxes in London, unleashing standard issue superpowered mayhem on a drizzly Greenwich. Audaciously, the final act may be the funniest, unafraid to puncture its cosmic stakes with a sly gag or two. Scratch the surface, though, and there’s something deeper beneath the remorselessly waggish sheen. Mortality is a major theme of this movie, and that embraces deities as well as humans. “We are not gods,” declares Odin, foreshadowing a story that shows us even Asgardians can fall – and, when they do, the jokes are set aside and the film attains a sense of mythic poetry that’s genuinely moving.

To his credit, director Alan Taylor keeps these gear-shifts from ever feeling too jarring. He also dials down the Shakespearean swagger of Branagh’s Thor and ups the combat quotient, as befits a veteran of Game Of Thrones. Taylor’s Asgard is a little more weathered, a little more lived in, but there are some truly handsome visuals here, a frequently dazzling aesthetic that captures the Jack Kirby grandeur of the original comic books.

Yes, there are flaws. It’s the most perfunctory of plots. It deposits Jane Foster in Asgard but wastes the chance to reverse the fish-out-of-water theme of the first film. Idris Elba’s Heimdall bags more screentime but Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif never has the chance to shine and the Warriors Three are similarly shortchanged.

But it’s a film that never dares to bore you. Just watch as Jane and Thor take a giddying journey to Asgard through a swirling rainbow vortex. “We have to do that again,” says Jane, breathless and thrilled. If only for a moment she’s the voice of the audience, peering at this sugar-rush joyride through their daft 3D specs.

Nick Setchfield

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Watch a Thor: The Dark World featurette about Loki.
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