Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Idris Elba, Jamie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
It’s fair to say that the first Thor film released in 2011 was a unique take on the superhero genre, and a surprising success. Set partially in a sweeping Asgardian setting, and with a Shakespearean feel, it was something completely different to anything we had seen before. It was a huge gamble by Marvel to push a relatively unknown hero so early in their Avengers project, but ultimately it surprised a lot of people.
It remained to be seen whether the sequel, entitled Thor: The Dark World, could replicate the success of the first film with that surprise element now gone. Could the casual movie-goer continue to buy into the character, and could Marvel drum up more stories which engaged the audience?
I am happy to say Marvel have absolutely continued their run of great films.
This time around the story centres on a group of Dark Elves who have existed since before time, when all worlds were in darkness. The leader of the Elves, Malekith (Eccleston), plots to return all the 9 worlds into darkness, using a great power known as the Aether. It is up to Thor and his various cohorts to stop the Elves, after an attack leaves Asgard in ruins.
One of the reasons the first film worked was the performance from Chris Hemsworth. A lot of people talk about the great casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, but arguably Hemsworth was just as good. Other actors may be able to play the role, but I doubt anyone could bring the Norse God to life quite as well as the burly Australian.
Including The Avengers, this is the third time out for Thor, and Hemsworth has lost none of his spark, completely making the role his own. We also get to see a much more low-key (wink wink) performance from him in the early part of the film as Thor attempts to cut himself off from Jane Foster (Portman) in a bid to keep her safe. Unfortunately events conspire when the two lovers paths must cross again.
Another cast member who deserves full praise is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. As with his adopted brother, this is Loki’s third time out and he is just as playful as ever. The first film saw the character attempting to keep his mischievous side secret for the large part, but in The Dark World he has his chaos dial turned up to 11. The character has broken out much more than any other Marvel Cinematic villain, and if you are a fan like me, you will love his performance here as we get to see all sides of the character.
Almost all of the supporting cast from the first film return, although with increased roles for Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman, Lady Sif and The Warriors Three are relatively unused here, being used more as tools to assist Thor, than to affect the story. Everyone does their job pretty well, although Skarsgard’s Dr Selvig has been turned into a bit of a crazed loner, which I feels undermines the great actor somewhat. It’s not a big complaint, just a change in character that I don’t really feel was needed.
The story is decent enough, without being overly original. In fact, for me there are comparisons to be made with Lord of the Rings, which is perhaps not particularly surprising given the characters are largely similar to those found in fantasy stories. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into detail here, but I have listed below several areas which tie into the Tolkein masterpiece.
It can’t be argued that Thor was a stunning piece of cinema, with the grandiose Asgard and the chilling Jotunheim both on show. The Dark World has attempted to top the original and has probably succeeded. Whilst the original was glossy, this has a darker tone which is not particular surprising given the director, Alan Taylor has previously worked on the notoriously gritty Game of Thrones. It is used to great effect to mirror the darker, more brooding tone of story which affects Thor on a personal level in a number of ways.
Not only do we see a different side of Asgard, but we also get to see plenty of action on Earth. If I had to pick one area of weakness for the first film it would be the climax. Whilst plenty of damage is caused in New Mexico, the action is perhaps not on as large a scale as the other Marvel films, and given the rest of the film sets up the story as an epic, it is a little underwhelming, albeit fun.
As with the visuals, The Dark World goes some way to rectify this. There is plenty of action throughout, even from the opening scenes, which culminate in two great battles for Thor, firstly with Algrim (an unstoppable, bull-like Dark Elf) and later an Aether-powered Malekith. We also have various Dark Elves (in their battle armor which looks a little like something from Dr Who) running around London causing mayhem. This finale is, outside of The Avengers, as good as we have seen so far from a Marvel film, and even incorporates a gimmick which increases the spectacle no end.
After last year’s release of The Avengers, questions were raised as to how Marvel would deal with Phase Two. The characters were all now in contact with each other through the Avengers Initiative, and so why wouldn’t they band together anytime there was a threat to neutralise the problem quicker? Marvel have answered the critics perfectly. Firstly with Iron Man 3, and now with The Dark World, Marvel have decided to make the threats personal to the heroes, and so far it is a winning strategy from the studio as both films have been stunning.
With improved visuals, breathtaking action and a great sense of humour, The Dark World is a fun film to close out the blockbuster season. If I had to pick one word to describe it? Thor-some!
Lord of the Rings comparisons – SPOILERS AHEAD
The film starts with a narrated tale about a battle in which the villainous Malekith was beaten and the Aether taken from him. Not unlike the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring.
It contains Elves and Magic!
There is a powerful object you can put your finger in (The Ring To Rule Them All / The Aether inhabits Jane Foster).
The hero (Frodo / Thor) has to take the object (The Ring / The Aether) to it’s homeland (Mordor / Svartalfheim) to be destroyed.
An untrustworthy characters is used as a guide (Gollum / Loki)
Malekith’s “spaceship” looks uncannily like Sauron’s eye-tower.
Both Malekith and Sauron can sense where The Aether / The Ring is when it is activated.