POP BACK: Thor The Dark World (2013)

Thor is back for a second solo outing. Of all the Marvel characters, Thor, is arguably the hardest to get right. He is so detached from the rest of the universe yet he still needs to be relatable despite his godly powers. It is something Branagh’s vision never quite successfully managed and even The Dark World struggles with. However, this time around the sequel has two aces up its sleeve as the film’s main stars – Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston – have a much better understanding of their characters and the troubled brotherly relationship.

Although this sequel’s subtitle suggests a darker, Empire Strikes Back style, follow-up compared to the camp fish-out-of-water story of the first, the film still retains the lightness of touch and goofy charm that worked so well in the Thunder God’s first outing. However, that is not to suggest that the story isn’t darker as there is certainly more at stake and Thor faces personal tragedies along the way, but it does still possess the same irreverent tone that has characterised nearly all of the Marvel studio films thus far.

Directorial duties this time fall to Alan Taylor, a Game of Thrones veteran hired to bring a grounded grittiness to Asgard and the other nine realms. Taylor certainly seems like a sensible choice as the series gradually moves away from the gaudy pantomime of the first. It is still a fantastical story of demigods in golden palaces fighting Lord of the Rings extras in Boba Fett’s spaceship but there is now a grimy and lived-in quality to this multi-dimensional universe.

The story is, by and large, irrelevant. Opening with a clunky prologue revealing the history of the film’s antagonist and MacGuffin the story seems to constantly trip over itself for the first hour. There are still some entertaining moments to be had in the first half but it feels bitty and frequently gets bogged down in explaining a plot built on cheap contrivances and an ill-defined end-of-the-world device that must be stopped.

Once again the film spends time on a relationship that is almost impossible to care about. Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have decent enough chemistry but there is just nothing interesting about them as a couple despite the laboured efforts of a script that tries to make Portman’s scientist more crucial to the story. It also doesn’t help that Portman looks increasingly uncomfortable and wasted in this sort of role. The weak characterisation once again extends to the Warriors Three and other Asgardians whilst the film arguably features the worst Marvel villain to date.

It is hardly Christopher Eccleston’s fault for the failings of Thor’s foe because he has nothing to do for two hours but struggle to deliver Elvish dialogue through his heavy makeup. Without his name being constantly repeated throughout the film it would be easy to forget who he even was, particularly as he leaves most of the action to his even duller lackeys. They should have just called him Dark Elf #1 and be done with it as he is afforded scant development.

The movie improves tenfold when Hiddleston’s mischievous Loki is reintroduced as an important character. As with the first, Loki steals the show with limited screen time as he is reunited with his adopted brother in the fight with Malekith and his dark elf army.

Loki, and particularly Hiddleston’s portrayal, breathes life into a perfunctory and predictable story. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston work so well together as they drag the film through its many rocky moments. If Loki brings the devilish charm, Hemsworth continues to grow into the title role nailing both the action and humour, often within the same scenes. He has the looks and charisma of a demigod but the comic timing that still makes him relatable. It is a hard role to convince in but Hemsworth continues to demonstrate the personality and star power that is missing from so many modern leading men.

With a more confident and settled tone the film builds towards a thrilling and funny climax that delivers inventive action that had been absent throughout the rest of the film. Recalling one of Monsters, Inc’s most famous sequences, the final showdown manages to juggle many elements, not least marrying some well judged humour with apocalyptic dread, whilst still being coherent. In an age of disorienting action sequences it is always refreshing to be able to actually follow what is going on.

Thor: The Dark World is far from a perfect blockbuster. The plot is piffle and it takes an age to finally find its footing but once it does it delivers just enough laughs and action to make it bareable.

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