The pressure is certainly on these days for those entrusted with the characters from the Marvel Universe to give us quality and nothing else. Joss Whedon certainly didn’t help that with The Avengers last year, as Shane Black can probably attest. It also doesn’t help that fans are now conditioned to expect greatness as a bare minimum. Kevin Feige has built a level of expectation that is becoming harder and harder for directors to reach.
So you have to feel a degree of sympathy for Alan Taylor, himself no stranger to high expectations. Coming from the massively-popular and fan-critical world of Game of Thrones, he will know what it feels to make something that will be dissected and examined and critiqued by a hoard of expectant masses. Kenneth Branagh shocked – in a good way – many with his 2011 imagining of a Norse God from another realm, and Taylor had the unenviable task of delivering a sequel that had to do what sequels are supposed to do; be better than the first. And he pulls it off.
But he doesn’t do it the easy way.
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Ecclestone
Run Time: 120 Minutes
Release Date: November 8 (US)/Out Now (Europe)
Thor: The Dark World is not a perfect film. There are flaws, like any Marvel – and indeed any – film. However as many comic book fan will be glad to know, we’re not talking flaws on an Iron Man 3 Mandarin scale.
Malekith, the movie’s supposed chief villain, is woefully presented here. With a decent existing before the universe and now looking to rule again backstory, it was not out of one of the nine realms of possibility that we would get a definitive and convincing Marvel villain. However by the end, the dark elf was left to mainly give us generic threats and a fair amount of growling. We know Christopher Eccleston is better than this, which makes it so frustrating that we end with up with a rather generic comic book movie bad guy. It also makes you wonder if a lot of Malekith ended up on the cutting room floor (or the deleted scenes section of the Blu-ray). If this is the case then this one falls at Taylor’s feet as a Director. Writers Stephen McFeely along with Christophers Yost and Markus surely wrote a script designed to do more for Malekith, which makes me think “why we don’t get more?” Equally the question is asked who to cast an accusing glance towards when it comes to the plot holes gapingly present. A midly-intruiging love triangle story with Thor, Jane Foster and Sif is abruptly ended, despite it being hinted at in the first movie, one of the sequel’s trailers highlighting this possible awkward Asgardian situation.
If you want to get really picky on the flaws, there will be some of a certain qualification and mindset out there that will boldly state that the science talk is totally bogus, with some real questionable scenarios and explanations being offered up throughout the film. But let’s leave the flaws alone and instead focus on what makes this – when all is said and done – a heart-warming, endearing and thoroughly hilarious film.
Starting with the returning lead, Chris Hemsworth is a great God of Thunder. The charisma and impression he brings to the role is what makes the character believable and acceptable. And if you enjoyed the fish-out-of-water elements such as smashing a cup as a demand for more coffee, or walking into a pet shop and asking for a horse, in the first film then you will not be disappointed here. As an aside, there’s an early shirtless scene to ‘keep the female viewership happy’, although that seems to be the only reason for the scene’s inclusion. Similar to the Robert Downey Jr-sized issue Marvel have with Iron Man and that character’s future, there are going to be problems if and when Hemsworth decides to finally put down Mjolnir for the last time.
But a film’s lead is only as good as their supporting cast, the theory goes. So Hemsworth can only be viewed as fortunate that he has someone as good as Tom Hiddleston with him. Make no mistake about it, despite Thor’s name being on the poster this is Loki’s film. Since the first film fans have wanted Loki to take centre-stage. He did in The Avengers, to an extent, though he was also going to struggle to own a film with the cast that ensemble epic did. But in The Dark World, he has his chance to take that centre stage. And boy does he do that here; Hiddleston is fantastic, delivering a seamless blend of charisma, presence, humour and some pretty damn good combat skills as well. He is one of those actors that can make you genuinely believe in what he is doing, good or bad. Of course, writers and directors must take some of the credit for how a character comes across, but in the end it is Hiddleston up there on screen, taking us through the wide range of emotions and choices that Loki ends up experiencing and making. And up until the very end, you never quite know where he is going. A truly majestic performance that, considering Joss Whedon’s insistence that Loki is not due to appear in Age of Ultron, makes you truly hope that Feige and Marvel have something else lined up for him.
He is not supporting Hemsworth alone, however, and he is duly assisted in that regard. There is a welcome increase in screen time for Sir Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo, with Russo in particular seemingly determined to show Kenneth Branagh that she should have been given more to do in the first film than just hold her husband’s hand while he had his Odin-Sleep. We also get more insight into the mother-son relationship between Loki and Frigga, something else that was briefly touched upon in the first film. Odin gets more of a stage as well, though his exposition voice over during the film’s clunky first 20 minutes should have been better. Hopkins gives Thor’s daddy the sense of importance, gravitas and a human side not really presented as well as it could have been last time out.
Away from Asgard, the supporting cast on Earth deliver also. Natalie Portman was criticised for her role in the first film, rather unfairly blamed for being a love interest in a film that many thought should have purely been about a God with a hammer. This time she again obviously plays the love interest, though she now has a far more important and centric part in the story, and does enough that should lead to praise instead of comic book fan scorn. We also get a moment between Jane Foster and Thor that provides a nice little nod to Mr Odinson’s Avenger-related activities in New York. The comedy pairing of Kat Dennings’ Darcy and Jonathan Howard’s Ian provides some laughs also, while IT Crowd star Chris O’Dowd’s cameo as Jane suitor is a little random but no less amusing and actually does provide a plot movement in the film. Of course, there is the obligatory Stan Lee cameo also. Stellan Skarsgard plays Erik Selvig largely for laughs this time around, although his brainwashing at the hands of Loki in The Avengers is hinted as a reason for the scientist’s wacky behaviour, which disappears towards the end and we get the brilliant mind we have met before. There is also an increased presence for Idris Elba’s Heimdall, who does more than just stand watch at the Bifrost this time round. The mainly familiar cast seems tighter for the sequel, with only the presentation of Malekith being the main disappointment, and you tend to point that more towards the Alan Taylor in the director’s chair than Eccleston himself. Still better than The Mandarin though.
As for the amount of comedy in the film? While it had to be considered a risk to have that much comedy in a movie that is basically about a malevolent evil entity looking to end the world, but when Hiddleston is charged with delivering the majority of those comedic moments, the risk disappears. If there is a criticism to be had, however, it is the placement of that comedy at times. A major emotional sucker punch is too closely followed by a scene designed to generate laughs. The majority of the gags hit the mark, so it does make it a touch frustrating that Taylor and co. seem too eager to go back to the laughs when they are more than enough scenes that are capable of delivering dramatic, emotional moments.
Inevitably people will have differing opinions on the film’s main highlights, although a thrilling and unexpected Avengers-related scene is hard to beat. Lastly, stick around to the very end as there are a couple of post-credits stings to take in. The first one in particular does a very good job of setting a new stage for Marvel’s Phase Two, though the second clip plants a few seeds of it’s own.[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]Tom Hiddleston cements his position as the best thing in the Marvel Universe
Anthony Hopkins’ increased screen time as Odin
THAT Avengers scene
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]The woeful presentation and development of the film’s main villain
Parts of the plot seem to be forgotten about or allowed to fall by the wayside
As funny as the comedy is for the majority, at times the film was all too quick and inappropriate to seek laughs