[UK - 30th October 2013]
[US - 8th November 2013]
Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Christopher Yost, Christoper Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Synopsis: Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.
Thor: The Dark World was never going to be an easy film for Marvel to make. Not just because Thor is one of the weaker pre-Avenger movies in the Marvel pantheon, but also because the film promised to broaden the horizons of the Marvel movie universe. Unfortunately, The Dark World falls very short of these lofty goals.
But how? Surely a sequel to Thor should be an easy and enticing prospect? Introducing the character was troublesome, because he was an awkward fit in with the previously established universe, but now with the universal love of Loki and the world of Asgard, making a successful Thor sequel should be a walk in the park.
After all, they have all of the pieces in place. Tom Hiddleston‘s sneering portrayal of Loki has become everyone’s second favourite part of the Marvel universe, and the hiring of Game Of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor in the director’s chair displayed a Marvel that were willing to take risks on an untested (film) director to help create a larger and more realistic fantasy setting as they expanded into other realms and broadened the Marvel universe.
Except that never really happens. Svartalfheim, the home of the Dark Elves (the film’s visually striking antagonists) is one drab and desolate wasteland, that sadly never looks remotely convincing. We’re also treated to another brief glimpse of the Frost giant realm from t he first film, which just seems to be made up of the same icy wastelands that we saw previously, and there’s one realm featuring a lot of Asian people living in straw huts that we see one sliver of. Aside from it being ever so slightly racist, it’s a bit thin on the ground for a film that promised to expand the universe.
In fact, “thin on the ground” is a rather apt description for the entire film. Thor: The Dark World wastes no time in reaching its conclusion, often to the detriment of the characters, narrative, drama, and well, everything. The Dark World has one of the shortest runtimes in the Marvel movie universe and it blasts through a lot of content, at such a pace that is both dizzying and counter intuitive.
Overall, it leaves the film feeling very light; skipping from one scene to the other, while only barely managing to link them together through a semblance of cohesion. The Thor world is full of rich characters, but here all of them are vying for screentime, for ultimately, very little purpose. We were promised that characters that were only featured briefly last time round would have larger, more important roles – when really that’s just not the case. Having Heimdall take his helmet off at one point doesn’t count as Idris Elba being in it more, and yet for a character that is supposedly one of the most loyal and fearsome warriors in all the universe – he again does very little. He also commits treason for the second time, which really doesn’t help maintain the image of “steadfast loyalty”.
Marvel have been criticized for their films putting too much emphasis on humour, as opposed to focusing on crafting films with more emotional gravitas. Iron Man 3 managed to strike a balance between the two, whereas The Dark World fails to find that same equilibrium. Without spoiling anything, there are major developments in the plot that should provoke a large emotional response, but the weight is robbed from these scenes because of how quickly they are discarded. No sooner have we suffered a loss than we’ve skipped to the movie’s idea of humour, whether it be featuring Stellan Skaarsgard running around in various states of undress (either pixelated nudity or underpants), and criminally under using Chris O’Dowd, who apparently shows up to demonstrate to American audiences that he exists outside of The IT Crowd. Basically, The Dark World doesn’t dwell on anything remotely deep or introspective, and the film suffers massively because of it.
This is particularly interesting when you consider that traditionally, the comic iteration of Thor is often criticized for being too serious. It’s a very complicated universe, filled with a number of intricately interwoven characters, macguffins, and stories expanding across all of the different realms. As such, it contains very little humour and is told completely straight faced, something that many people find hard to absorb. On the one hand, it’s good that Marvel have essentially listened to their fans and taken that criticism on board, and decided to make the film version of Thor more accessible for the people who perhaps aren’t interested in that type of mythology. However, in this writer’s opinion they have taken a step too far, to a point where the humour overrides everything and doesn’t gel well with the film’s content.
One thing that the Marvel universe has been strongly criticized for is its lack of compelling villains – something that could be easily fixed with the introduction of Malekith The Accursed, and Algrim The Strong. What’s more, having Christopher Eccleston cast as the lead antagonist seemed like a match made in heaven, as the British thespian could easily provide some much needed gravitas to proceedings.
In what is probably the film’s greatest failing, Malekith is hardly in it. Frankly, he could have been played by anyone, as Eccleston is given nothing to do. Malekith has no emotions, no real purpose, and no opportunity to do anything of interest. It doesn’t help that the final battle between the two is mostly shot from afar, all in CGI, and played for its ridiculousness, rather than any hint of intensity, drama or peril. Characters like Algrim The Strong are underserved by the story. In the comics, his arc into becoming Kurse makes him a very sympathetic character, but this is all dispensed in interest of keeping the film brief – relegating him to the role of a hulking CGI lump.
There was a faint glimmer of hope that this film would be truly special when Alan Taylor was brought on board, but for those who have paid attention to the troubled production schedule of the Thor sequel, the outcome shouldn’t be entirely surprising. The Dark World fails to improve upon its lacklustre counterpart, and instead succumbs to its own embarrassment. Much like Warner Brothers efforts can be criticized for shunning their comic book roots, it isn’t much better when you choose to blast through them at a pace that doesn’t allow anyone that might not like comics to stop and question it. The end result is frankly, a complete mess, and one that Taylor isn’t entirely responsible for.
Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World is a husk of the film it should have been, and there are clearly signs that at one point there was a better film before someone got cold feet and cut it down. Natalie Portman is a drab void of charisma and other, more interesting characters are completely sidelined in order to give her the undeserved spotlight.
The most tragic thing is, even characters that are given the spotlight (Thor, Jane, Loki) don’t actually do anything with it to further their characters or add a new level of characterization. In fact, this feels like Marvel boiled down to the bare necessities; a film that operates as a framework, and not a complete project. Even Chris Hemsworth, who tries so hard to anchor the film, isn’t given anything much to do, but tries admirably to elevate the material, unlike Sir Anthony Hopkins, who just looks like he’s given up by this point.
Marvel have managed to win over audiences by treating their comics with dignity and investing in strong cast decisions, both behind and in front of the camera. However, their practices have left just as many people satisfied as they’ve unceremoniously upset. Their films have always been more palatable and “fun” than their DC counterparts, but never before to the detriment of quality. Let’s hope that Thor: The Dark World is just a glitch in the system and not a start to a worrying trend of diminishing returns.