Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
With Marvel’s “phase two” getting off to a bit of a bumpy start with the divisive Iron Man 3, all eyes turned to Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor to help right the ship with 2013’s Thor The Dark World. The initial teasers and trailers looked promising, with more of a focus on Asgard and the introduction of the Dark Elves and Malekith – one the God of Thunder’s more formidable comic book adversaries. Unfortunately, as we all know by now, it didn’t quite end up like that.
The story, such as it is, makes very little sense. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster – reduced to a lovesick puppy dog, wide-eyed idiot and hapless damsel in distress – accidentally stumbles onto “the Aether”, an ancient evil force (and, y’know, Infinity Gem) that Malekith needs to destroy the universe for… some reason. A lot of stuff happens that really has no impact on anything, and then trouserless comedy idiot Erik Selvig pretty much saves the day with his scientific anti-portal rods.
It’s all a bit of a mess, to be honest, and while there are some fairly enjoyable moments slotted in at almost random intervals (the scene with Thor, Sif and the Warriors Three doing battle in Vanaheim, for instance, is rollicking fantasy fun), the whole thing hangs uncomfortably around a paper-thin threat and a leading man who does very little other than kick, punch and Hammer everything into submission.
On the plus side, Tom Hiddleston once again absolutely nails his performance as Loki, managing to blend humour and pathos into a genuinely compelling character (who also ends up being pretty much the only character here who’s allowed to be more than a one-dimensional stereotype). The scenes with him and Thor are genuinely amusing, and their back-and-forth banter during the daring escape from Asgard (give or take a “ta-daa!” here and there), is fantastic.
There’s also a thoroughly enjoyable character development arc for Loki where he finally shows some loyalty to his adopted brother, sacrificing himself for the greater good in what was an genuinely touching scene. Unfortunately, this rewarding payoff is rapidly crumpled up into a ball and discarded at the end of a movie for another cackling, Skeletor-esque moment (which would then be crumpled up into a ball and discarded four years later by Taika Waititi – more on that later), which should be considered pretty much par for the course for the MCU by now.
It’s incredibly frustrating that the best thing about the movie ends up being a bait-and-switch for something that ended up being little more than a punchline in an upcoming movie, but, well, that fact alone is probably pretty much all you need to know about The Dark World, to be honest.
There’s more, though. Because while undermining the only good thing about itself is a fairly curious strategy, there’s also a lot of stuff that is just plain bad here.
I mean, there’s the villains, too. Oh, the villains. Whether it’s Christopher Eccleston reinventing the term “phoning it in” with his flat, pantomime villain performance as Malekith, or his god awful Power Rangers reject of a rubber suited henchman, The Dark World is definitely one of the low points for MCU bad guys, removing any sense of threat or presence in spite of them decimating Asgard, beating Thor to a bloody pulp and, y’know, killing Thor’s mum.
The supporting cast are painfully average too, with Jamie Alexander’s Sif being the only one to stand out by virtue of an intriguing “unrequited love” plotline with Thor (which would also be completely disregarded outside of one enjoyable scene). Stellan Skarsgard is reduced to a comedy goon, Idris Elba and the rest of the Warriors Three are little more than extras, and Kat Dennings is painfully unfunny throughout, sucking the enjoyment out of every scene she’s a part of like some sort of crazy box office vampire.
The final showdown with Malekith is also marred by some incredibly jarring portal-based comedy. I mean, the fact that someone apparently thought “hey, wouldn’t be be cool if – during the showdown we’ve been building up to for the whole film – Thor has to get on the tube to get back to the baddie” and wasn’t immediately pelted with trash until they quit writing forever pretty much beggars belief.
In spite of all this, I’ll fully admit that I actually kind of enjoyed this one first time around, but I’m also acutely aware that my own fanboy excitement about seeing superhero films in the cinema covers up a multitude of sins. Whatever way you look at it, this movie doesn’t hold up in the slightest. The rewarding moments end up having absolutely zero payoff in future movies, the comedy is poorly balanced, and the central conflict of the movie is almost insultingly flimsy.
Sadly, this feels like the Marvel Cinematic Universe putting things on autopilot and hoping the revenue will keep churning in (which, to be fair, it did, raking in a respectable £644 million worldwide). A superficial, silly and ultimately unrewarding experience, Thor The Dark World is a dumb action movie without any decent action scenes, and could have potentially sent the MCU careering off a critical cliff were it not for a certain “Star Spangled Man With A Plan” who would show up just five months later to right the ship in emphatic fashion.
See you next week.
You can check out the rest of our Road To Infinity War reviews by CLICKING HERE.