Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013)

Thor Dark World
I learned to read through Marvel comics. On my seventh birthday in hospital, the interminable boredom was relieved by a sheaf of comics brought in by my family, including The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor and, I think, the X-Men although that might have been a little later. Throughout the ’70s, I read my way through most of the Marvel stable.

I have good feelings towards the current fad of superhero movies, especially the Marvel ones (I never really go into the DC stable). I am indulgent to them, the real stinkers like X-Men: The Last Stand, and Wolverine aside, and I look out for them and go to the cinema to see them whenever I can and I’m not going to join in the criticism of the number of superhero blockbusters being made. Even so, the first Thor film was a nice surprise, a fairly low-key affair that balanced humour, melodrama, romance and superpower shenanigans pretty deftly.

Following the Thor character’s appearance in the Avengers movie, I was intrigued to see what they would do with the sequel, and was reassured that Portman, Skarsgård, Hiddleston and others would be reprising their roles from the first film, promising to continue the good work from the first film, albeit almost certainly on a larger scale. I’m sorry to say I was badly disappointed.

The plot is based around an ancient evil being resurrected and Norse ‘god’ (actually a superpowered alien) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) having to enrol his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into helping him stop it before all of existance is plunged into eternal darkness, while at the same time reigniting his romance with human scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

This sequel isn’t terrible. Individual bits of it are very good, now and again, but it all seems very disjointed, lurching around and not finding any consistent tone. Taylor is unable to match Branagh’s directorial trick of negotiating the changeovers from light to dark, from comedy to romance to thriller to action. The comedy is too broad (poor Skarsgård looks like Father Jack Hackett at one point), the threat too portentous, the romance unengaging. Only the action seems confidently managed but, without my engagement in the rest of the drama, I’m left just watching a display of special effects. That ‘suspension of disbelief’ that allows me to care what happens to the characters is missing.

The acting is fine, given the material. Portman is good, one of the few to convince in her role. Hemsworth bravely delivers some fairly poor lines better than they really deserve. Anthony Hopkins looks utterly disinterested in his role. Hiddleston is, unsurprisingly, terrific. He is a superb actor and, given the best role as the scheming, sardonic villain on the side of good, can’t really go wrong. The person most misused is Christopher Eccleston. A very good actor, he is given almost nothing to do, except deliver some subtitled threats in a fake language while looking a bit weird, and this latter is achieved by make-up and special effects anyway.

I think the bare bones of a good film were here. It might have benefited from some re-writes to improve the dialogue and make the transitions flow better (or perhaps it had already been rewritten too much?) but the failure, for me, of this film has to be chiefly laid at the door of the director who seems not to have settled on what he wanted the overall film to feel like and ended up, as a result, with a mishmash.

And I’m still waiting for Thor’s human alter-ego, Dr Donald Blake, to make an appearance in the film universe.

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