In the latest Marvel installment, Thor: The Dark World, helmed by Alan Taylor (a director on many of television’s greatest shows – Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and Mad Men amongst them), events follow not only those in Thor but also the titular God’s heroics in The Avengers. Since then Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his treacherous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is imprisoned in the depths of the city (and remains there, looking increasingly like a doped-up ex-rocker, for half of the film), and has been protecting the Nine Realms in preparation for taking over the throne currently resided by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
But, a primeval race, known as the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, barely recognisable) awaken and seek revenge on their ancient enemies, who have hidden the Aether, a powerful weapon capable of plunging all of the nine realms into eternal darkness, in an unattainable place. When human astrophysicist Jane Foster (a very unconvincing, and bland, Natalie Portman) and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings, a comic-relief sidekick, who actually steals scenes here) discover a portal that results in Jane unwillingly becoming a host for the Aether, she finds herself in serious danger. Recuperating on Asgard she joins Thor, Loki - released, and desperately called upon as an ally - and Asgard guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba) amongst others, in an elaborately staged mission to return to Earth and stop Malekith’s reign of terror.
I have to admit, I know very little about the Marvel Universe, save what I have learned through the series of films. For quite a while I wasn’t too interested in the story here, which is a familiar tale of a dark force resurfacing and attempting to take back something that should have been destroyed (but inexplicably wasn’t) that will make them omnipotent. Naturally, Thor becomes not only Asgard’s last hope, but also the one and only option for oblivious Londoners. After a very slow start – padded exposition, corny dialogue, weak acting (Hopkins, what is going on?) and derivative Lord of the Rings-esque musical progressions - and despite this formulaic narrative, The Dark World becomes surprisingly entertaining.
As soon as the bitterly pessimistic Loki is released and fights by Thor’s side - while remaining a humorous verbal antagonist – the film really picks up. The action sequences don’t have a lot of stakes, but rather than resort to cataclysmic levels of destruction in the finale, a playful and clever series of propulsions between dimensions is added, and the humour level rises substantially. The banter between Thor and Loki is indicative of the fantastic chemistry between likeable Hemsworth (sickeningly smug at times) and the cheeky Hiddleston (who can pull off Loki in his sleep). It was nice to see Loki involved in a different capacity though, and the same can be said for Jane, who spends much of the film in Asgard. Darcy and her intern have plenty of time too as they hunt down Jane’s scatterbrained mentor, Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), whose experience in The Avengers has resulted in an amusing psychological breakdown. It is a pity that supporting actors like Elba and Chris O’Dowd aren’t given more to do. I wanted more of them.
Though the dramatic twists don’t really evoke any emotion, the impressively staged action sequences are exciting – the Dark Elves’ assault on Asgard and Thor and Loki’s escape are two of the highlights. The 3D is fairly pointless, the story is familiar superhero fare, but it is a fun film, nonetheless. While not a slam-dunk success, the gel of tones and the uniting of fantasy and real-world elements work consistently, resulting in another decent enough Marvel saga.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22