Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

For F*** Magazine


Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Renee Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Run Time: 112 mins
Opens: 31 October 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)

     The Marvel Cinematic Universe train has been chugging along at a steady pace and with the release of Iron Man 3 earlier this year, Phase II has begun. Now, that film proved divisive, to say the least - it earned an impressive box office take but there was an outcry from fans over some surprise liberties it took with the source material. The thunder meister’s second outing probably will soothe some of those ruffled feathers.

            An ancient evil, the dark elf Malekith the Accursed (Eccelston), has awoken after 5000 years and re-embarks on his mission to send all of the nine realms in existence into utter darkness, using the volatile substance aether. Meanwhile, Loki (Hiddleston) is brought back to Asgard and imprisoned by his father Odin (Hopkins). His mother Frigga (Russo) is understandably saddened by Loki’s actions and Odin is keen for Thor (Hemsworth) to take his rightful place on the throne of Asgard. However, Thor is preoccupied with thoughts of his beloved Jane Foster (Portman), his father disapproving of his interest in the “meagre human”. When she comes into contact with the aether, Thor brings her back to Asgard in order to find a way to extract the deadly entity. As the convergence of the nine realms nears, Malekith is ever closer to his goal, Thor eventually having to work with his disgraced brother to prevent the destruction the dark elf has planned.

           It is worth noting that Thor: The Dark World has a different creative team from the first film – different writers, editors, a different costume designer, director of cinematography, production designer and a different director. Taking over from Kenneth Branagh is Alan Taylor, best known for his work directing episodes of Game of Thrones. Patty Jenkins was set to direct the film before leaving the project and it seems Taylor didn’t have the best time working as a part of the big Marvel machine. Still, he has delivered a solid film, drawing on his experience with the fantasy genre. The film is slightly more serious and heavy than its predecessor, but it is justifiably so and the drama of it all is punctuated with well-judged moments of humour, including the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.

            It has been said that sequels are all about the villains; that after establishing the characters and the world is out of the way, the spotlight can shift to a truly spectacular bad guy. Think Heath Ledger’s Joker or Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent turn as “John Harrison”. Well, that’s not the case here. Malekith is a two-dimensional foe whose ultimate goal is as straightforward as they come. He is threatening but never truly compelling – however, this isn’t a bad thing. It seems that the filmmakers’ intention was not to have an antagonist come and steal the show, but to further the dynamic between Thor and Loki against the backdrop of a new threat, a decision that pays off.
            Tom Hiddleston has gained recognition, acclaim and much fan love (all of tumblr squeals in delight at the mere mention of his name) for his portrayal of Loki, the god of mischief and Thor’s adoptive brother. After being the main antagonist in both Thor and The Avengers, Hiddleston gets to visit the role a third time – which, if one thinks about it, is a rare privilege for an actor playing a “baddie”. Loki is a figure who is sympathetic in addition to being duplicitous and sometimes nasty, but what really works in this film is the angle of the character as a trickster being played up, that the audience is never sure where he’s headed with whatever he’s doing and whether it is a fatal error or an unexpected boon when Thor has to rely on him.

            It’s evident by the above paragraph that Hiddleston steals the show and there was never any doubt as to whether he would, but the rest of the cast, many returning from the first Thor film, is good as well. Chris Hemsworth has truly settled into Thor’s boots, putting that famous godlike physique on display again. This a Thor who’s less of a fish out of water than in the first film, though he still gets a couple of such moments. Natalie Portman is a talented actress but, as was the case with the first film, doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the love interest. It is nice that Jane gets to visit Asgard and see her big ole boyfriend in his natural habitat. We spend less time on earth, which is good, and Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård and newcomer Jonathan Howard are efficient comic relief elements while moving the plot forwards.

            Mads Mikkelsen was initially cast as Malekith, but had to drop out due to commitments to his TV show Hannibal. Christopher Eccleston is a fine replacement, covered in prosthetic makeup and doing a lot of scowling. The Warriors Three – well, two, since Hogun (Asano) isn’t in most of this – along with Lady Sif (Alexander) and Heimdall (Elba) do get their chances to shine. This reviewer was particularly entertained by Zachary Levi, nigh unrecognisable with that blonde ‘do, as Fandral the Dashing, replacing Josh Dallas from the first film. There’s also a bit more of Anthony Hopkins and Renee Russo, though Hopkins does seem a little bored at times.

            “Dark” is a word that is getting overused in movie titles and subtitles, but though Thor: The Dark World has its downer moments it doesn’t try to be unnecessarily grim and gritty. The film does focus on character relationships and development and isn’t stuffed to the brim with hyperactive action beats and too much large-scale destruction. It does lapse into “conventional fantasy flick” mode with its use of tried and true genre elements but still feels like it fits into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of the character will welcome being thunderstruck once more. And yes, stay during the end credits for two stinger scenes.

SUMMARY: Thor: The Dark World isn’t as upbeat as the first go-round but it does satisfyingly expand on the relationship between Thor and Loki, as well as doling out the requisite fantasy-action spectacle.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars



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