Thor: The Dark World, Marvel’s latest entry in its ever-expanding movie franchise universe, is a film that shouldn’t work as well nor be as much fun as it eventually is.
Directed by Alan Taylor (Mad Men, Games of Thrones), who takes over from the more Shakespearian-inclined Kenneth Branagh who fashioned a romping good time of a movie in the original Thor (2011), it has everything, and I mean everything, you would expect in an epic superhero tale.
The overly long, portentous backstory, delivered in stately sonorous tones by a grave Odin (Anthony Hopkins), complete with dramatic scenes of battle in harsh and unflattering conditions.
A once in 5000 years event possibly apocalyptic event called The Convergence where all the planets of the fabled Nine Realms align in such a way that all physical boundaries between are temporarily erased.
You didn’t see that one coming did you Einstein?
The must-have super weapon, rather romantically termed the Aether (sounding like a perfume from one of Paris’s higher end cosmetic companies) which is all red and black viscosity, and sinewy malevolent intent.
A single minded bad guy, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves of Svartalheim, who is eager to wreak vengeance upon the overly-interfering folks of Asgard for denying him the chance to wipe all creation from existence eons ago and restore the darkness from which it sprang.
And last, but by no means least, a brooding, muscular hero in the future king of the heavenly realm of Asgard, which frankly could do with a bit more sunshine, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is still in love with Earth-based astro-physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and contending with a mischievously “evil” brother, Loki, all the while battling to restore peace to the troubled Nine Realms.
So busy, and with emotional issues, and a hammer. Do not forget the powerful, ground breaking hammer.
All these various elements can be found in just about every cookie-cutter, join-the-dots superhero movie out there, a bunch of narrative cliches all lined up like rather tired and worn ducks on a wall …
… and yet somehow it all works.
I am not entirely sure how since Alan Taylor doesn’t really do anything dramatically fresh or new with them, in fact fashioning them into a film that is visually derivative of a number of movies including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but somehow Thor: The Dark World, which drags a little in the muddled, overly contrived first act, comes together as a rollicking good, in-the-moment, action-adventure.
Not a memorable for the ages adventure mind you – all memory of it tends to evaporate as you leave the theatre so passing is its effect – and missing much of the over the top charm that made the first instalment such a pleasure to watch, but an enjoyably worthy follow up to The Avengers nonetheless.
Thor is quite a bit more grave and kingly this time around, taking his role as All-Father to be rather seriously, as he smites his foes, turns down beautifully worded advances from Asgardian warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander) who would be queen, and pines for the love of his life, Jane Foster, all the while waging battle on a grand theatrical scale which is admittedly impressive to watch.
While it makes perfect sense that Thor would have acquired some gravitas and maturity after his lesson-building experiences in Thor and The Avengers, I missed the impish, goofy Thor of old at times.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have few mirth-raising moments – hanging his supernatural hammer on Jane’s rather prosaic coat rack when he enters her apartment in one of the few scenes that take place on Earth is a comic gem – but he is far more leavened and serious than he once was.
Much of the impish charm of the movie thus falls to Jane’s friend Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who is frankly hilarious in every scene she’s in, Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) who manages to get arrested for parading naked at Stonehenge (there is method in his asylum-incarcerating madness), and Loki, who forges an uneasy alliance with his brother to fight Malakith and his “Kursed” kin.
It is these characters, together with Thor’s interactions with Loki and the romance between Thor and Jane – she finally gets to meet Thor’s mum Frigga (Rene Russo) and dad Odin in a scene of almost sitcom-level awkwardness – that inject much needed levity and humanity respectively into a movie that teeters on the edge of disappearing up its own otherworldly fount of over-importance at times, and has the most perfunctory and barely explained, if dazzlingly impressive, of endings.
The less than mind blowing, though visually dramatic, finale is the not too unexpected culmination of a film that ultimately is a collection of all the aforementioned, though beautifully arranged, cliches, leaving you wondering if Marvel isn’t beginning to pump these movies out at rather too fast a pace to keep any real originality pumping through their storytelling veins.
And yet for all that, Thor: The Dark World is an entertaining, fun, full on romp that somehow manages to transcend its been there, done that parts, a glorious in the moment upwelling of bubble gum destructive save the universe fun that cares not that it leaves little evidence of its passing once its sound and fury is spent.