The Walt Disney Company is really putting a lot of effort into turning out this big-screen Marvel features. It barely seems like yesterday that I was reviewing the rather awful third instalment in the Iron Man series. Just 6 months on, we have another feature that feels like a sequel to 2012’s Avengers Assemble (though is officially a sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, released in 2011). Thor: The Dark World is tremendously enjoyable. It has its weaknesses (what film hasn’t), and there are big issues with plotting (a long-running problem with Marvel adaps) but this is a much stronger entry into the canon than anything the studio has churned out in the past couple of years.
Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor has a lot of fun with the material. He has a lovebale Norse God (played by the adorable Chris Hemsworth), a bunch of feisty human heroes (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Starsgard), and two terrific villains in the form of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an evil elf-guy a.k.a Malkith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston). To simplify an occasionally muddled plot, the Eccleston elf-guy and his pointy-eared friends want to mess stuff up in Asgard which also leads to complications on earth. Of course, Earth is home to Thor’s human love interest (Portman), so he isn’t too happy about this. Things get even more intense when he asks his nasty brother (Hiddleston) to help him fight the bad elf.
If this sounds like nonsense to you, don’t worry, you are not wrong. It is nonsense, but it all fits together in such an entertaining way it really doesn’t matter. There is such a rich flare for fun in this film that the weaknesses barely even hit home. After the annoying wise-cracks that littered Iron Man 3, it’s terrific to get a script that has the confidence to be funny without being smug.
Hemsworth and Portman are great in their roles and have a very watchable chemistry. It’s a shame that there had to be a scene of Portman slapping her loved-one across the face (more than once) in order to punish him, thus entering the film into a long line of movies that condone violence in a relationship so long it is doled out by the female. Aside from this unfortunate ill-judged moment, the time these two spend together onscreen serves as the heart and soul of the film and offers a nice contrast to another (but more familial) intense love-based relationship Thor has to navigate: the one he has with his brother.
British audiences may also take well to this instalment since it uses UK locations to great effect. Charring Cross, the Oxo Tower, Billericay, Stonehenge, and in a starring role, Greenwich, all feature or get referenced in some way. If you ever wanted to see a Marvel hero try to use the London Underground, here is your chance.
At the risk of sounding like I’m damning with faint praise, Thor: The Dark World works in spite of itself, not because of its own genius. It’s a good film because of the vibe of fun behind the whole thing. Maybe one day, however, we shall get a Marvel film that survives because of intelligent plotting and doesn’t become a mess by the time it’s barely into the second act. I hope that day comes soon, because if the studio can do this well whilst using flimsy stories, imagine what they could do with a brilliant one.
Thor: The Dark World (2013), directed by Alan Taylor, is released in cinemas in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK, Certificate 12A.