REVIEW: 'Thor: The Dark World'
For those who follow blockbuster movies, the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has dominated film news over the past two years. For a single studio to commit to such a consistent stream of movies, all linked together by some mysterious master plan, has certainly set a new standard for big-budget filmmaking.
And now we find ourselves in the so-called “Phase 2” of these films, when individual heroes like Captain America and Thor are putting in their sophomore appearances, and the studio is building us towards a second Avengers team-up movie.
It’s important to remember this background about Thor: The Dark World, because we can’t look at any Marvel film currently in theatres or in production as truly separate from the others. It’s all part of a bigger tapestry of comic-book action.
And while the Thor sequel is definitely entertaining and well-made for a superhero movie, it seems to have pressed “pause” on the character development front, as if satisfied with what Thor learned about himself in his 2011 debut. Opportunities to expand on his complicated relationship with the human scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) are mostly ignored. And even though Thor (Chris Hemsworth) forms a strained partnership with his adopted brother Loki (the antagonist from Thor’s previous outings), it serves more to advance the plot than to tell us anything new about this hero we’re supposed to care about.
As for the plot itself, we’re treated to an ethereal prologue to set up the villains this time around: a race of Dark Elves from “before the beginning of the universe”, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). The Dark Elves want to destroy the universe using a glowy-red force called the Aether, which ends up bonding itself to Thor’s girlfriend, Jane.
To oppose the threat to the "Nine Realms", Thor clashes once again with his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of their otherworldly realm of Asgard. The two men have differing ideas on strategy, with Thor pushing for a radical, pre-emptive strike against the Dark Elves. To do so, however, Thor must ally himself with the treacherous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and risk the Aether falling into the hands of the enemy, all while protecting the woman he loves.
It’s the same bombastic material we’d expect from a Thor film, and director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos) executes it with considerably more coherence than Kenneth Branagh did in the first film. Whereas Thor’s debut felt more like three episodes of a TV show, The Dark World is less mechanical. The film is more focused on the mythology of Asgard, and it’s easy to immerse yourself in the stylish culture (a fusion of medieval society with futuristic technology) and the heavenly landscapes.
But I couldn't shake some flashes of frustration when the film repeatedly brings up interesting ideas to explore with its characters, and subsequently abandons them. The concept of Thor as a reluctant new king is skimmed over, as is Thor’s lengthy absence from Jane. Then there’s the danger of Jane being possessed by the Aether, and the possibility of her becoming a temporary villain. Sadly, the only effects the possession appears to have on Jane are brief changes of eye colour and a couple of bizarre pulses of energy.
The movie also misses the chance to reverse the delightful “fish out of water” sequences of Thor on Earth in the first film. Imagine Jane’s shaky adjustment to life in Asgard - the potential culture shock and lack of acceptance by Asgardians might tell us something about Jane or Thor. Instead, Jane changes into a few Viking-style gowns, and runs away from the baddies, before later lending a hand in taking down Malekith. Not a tragedy, but hardly riveting, either.
Granted, there’s something to be said for The Dark World being "just a superhero movie". We’re supposed to turn off our brains and soak up the silliness: the outlandish costumes, big action scenes and jokes. In this department, the film doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of Marvel fan service to be found, including a cameo by another Avenger and loads of references to other movies.
It all builds to a thoroughly enjoyable climax, but by the time all of the big spaceships have smashed into the big buildings, and the comic relief is exhausted, Thor: The Dark World ends up feeling more like pre-Avengers 2 filler - due mostly to the film’s static characters. To be fair, I’m not looking for Oscar-worthy pathos here. All we need something more along the lines of the soul-searching seen in the Iron Man films, which have set the standard for achieving the right mix of character and entertainment.
Character flaws and missed opportunities aside, the film remains a marked improvement upon Thor’s debut, and so Thor: The Dark World gets three stars out of four.
What did you think of the Thor sequel? Was it just simple comic-book fun, or do you expect more from modern superhero films? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers! If you’d like to check out some of my recent reviews, browse through the links below, or check out my archive of new releases!