Thor was by far the hardest Avenger to establish. A cosmic, God, alien, immortal being was always going a hard one to make relate-able to audience’s. Despite some weak points concerning style, Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 outing for the Asgardian Avenger proved successful, with a spot-on Chris Hemsworth and a eye-catching Tom Hiddleston proving to be chief amongst the films’ strengths. Since the release of that first outing, a huge fandom has formed around both Hemsworth and Hiddleston, down to their charm, good looks, and genuine talent. It’s amazing the amount that that fandom has grown to, over the course of only two movies. Now the time has come for the opportunity to focus more on this pairing, and truly have fun within this world that has already been established. Why then, does The Dark World seem to stumble at nearly every turn?
With the nine realms in chaos following the actions of Loki (Hiddleston) on Earth, Thor (Hemsworth) has been kept busy restoring order to the world’s he protects. All the while, physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been searching for the means to reconnect with the Asgardian following their romantic encounter in New Mexico. However, her investigation leads her to unwittingly awaken a dark evil long thought gone in the form of Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) and his army of Dark Elves. Malekith, fueled with revenge from defeat thousands of years ago, will stop at nothing to throw all of the realms into darkness through the power of an ancient force known as the Aether. With destruction inevitable, Thor turns to help in the most unlikely of forms, his incarcerated and embittered step-brother Loki.
The problem with The Dark World is its inability to carry through with narrative promise, or to build a significant amount of tension towards a satisfying finale. There is great potential here, yet most of the interesting developments that could take place are never fully exploited. A love triangle between Thor, Jane, and Sif is drifted over as quickly as it is suggested, while Malekith never feels like a true threat due to so little time dedicated to clarifying his motives and letting the extremely talented Eccleston craft a character. Too much time is given to characters who are undeserving of it, such as Kat Denning’s Darcy and her intern Ian. Designed as ‘comic relief’ the pair are responsible for some of the most cringe-worthy moments in the movie, and simply aggravate whenever they are on the screen.
Director Alan Taylor, a regular on the likes of Game of Thrones and Mad Men, clearly revels in the darker corners of the material, relishing in the design of Malekith and his forces, as well as establishing a much more gritty and Earthy aesthetic to what Kenneth Branagh delivered back in 2011. The action feels much more real, while the weaponry design is much more organic and less sci-fi than one would expect. Yet, he seems to struggle in making everything seem cinematic. This film feels like the work of a TV director. There is an air of cheapness to the proceedings, from the rushed visual effects to the general tone, particularly in the first half hour (which feels more like an episode of Doctor Who than it does a multi-million dollar Marvel movie).
Taylor does manage to impress in a number of sequences around the middle section of the movie when the action does kick into gear and the pacing begins to charge full gallop. Basically when shit goes down. An aerial assault on Asgard hits the action beats with efficiency, and the resulting memorial scene is handled with delicacy and is surprisingly very moving, in large part thanks to Brina Taylor’s spine-chilling score. The film also grows in strength once Thor and Loki eventually team up. The script is up to par in these moments, as the verbal sparring between the two Gods remains witty, sharp, and wholly entertaining. It is a shame then that these moments don’t last longer, as the climax stumbles over its own feet and replaces the opportunity to establish credible threat with the chance to throw in a gag or a cheesy one-liner. The horribly convenient plot developments, goofy tone and gaping plot holes destroy all sense of tension and completely negates the work done by Eccleston in at least trying to make his villain memorable.
The performances range from confident to lazy. Hemsworth proves himself worthy once again, ably carrying the film on his well formed charismatic shoulders. Likewise, Hiddleston earns his paycheck with another trickster performance, managing to captivate even when he spends most of his screen-time stuck in a prison cell. Natalie Portman seems frustrated within her role as Jane Foster, who is reverted to a mere damsel in distress. But she’s intelligent. So that makes it ok? Elsewhere, Anthony Hopkins seems incredibly bored as Odin, while it’s great to see Rene Russo given much more to do this time around as Thor’s mother, and a good does of gravitas is supplied by the man mountain that is Idris Elba.
This is the first time since Disney’s acquisition of Marvel that a film from under the Marvel Studio’s banner has been felt like it has been significantly tampered with. It is no secret that this film had a troubled production, with re-shoots taking place as late as August, the ending in particularly feels incredibly slapped on at the last minute. Hopefully this will not be the case when The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes around in 2015. This film was directed by a man that the studio very much felt they could over-rule at any turn, Joss Whedon is the man who just made them $1.4 billion, he is in a position of power. Likewise, Iron Man 3 felt like a Shane Black movie because he is a film-maker with a distinct talent and voice, and one who would not let anyone compromise his vision. Stubbornness works wonders in the film industry. Taylor unfortunately is a director yet to establish a voice, and this film lacks a creative personality. Simply because there was no one vision. Thor: The Dark World marks the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has felt like a brand and nothing more. And it also marks the first time that I have been genuinely worried about the future of this franchise.