Spoiler-filled review of Thor: The Dark World

Review James Hunt 31 Oct 2013 - 06:48

A review of Thor: The Dark World, that's packed to the rafters with spoilers. Please be warned....

Please note: this review is filled with spoilers, and meant for reading after you've seen the film. Spoiler-filled comments are also welcomed on this post.

Our spoiler-free review is here.

Earlier this year, Iron Man 3 showed that it's possible for the Avengers to return to their solo adventures with enviable ease following the Marvel Studios mash-up that smashed box office records. Now it's the turn of Thor and Loki to make that journey as Thor: The Dark World brings everyone's favourite Asgardians back for another feature-length outing, pitting the brothers Odinson against Malekith and the Dark Elves. It, er, sounds goofier than it is.

Virtually the entire cast returns for the sequel, some fresh off The Avengers, other back for only their second outing. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are back alongside a freshly-traumatised Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) return from the original Thor alongside a clutch of supporting Asgardians too numerous to list. Usual sequel rules apply: the groundwork is laid, now it's time to go bigger.

And it is bigger, in all the ways that you can measure. It's funnier than the first, it's got more thrilling action, the characters have more nuance. It's everything you expect a Marvel blockbuster to be. But it also isn't quite as good as it could've been. As a Marvel fan and a comics nerd, I left with a grin, wanting to see it all again. But I also couldn't help acknowledging the weaknesses.

An obvious touchstone here is Iron Man 2, a sequel oft-maligned not because it was particularly bad (it wasn't) but because it wasn't as bold and confident as its openly superb predecessor. In the same way, Thor: The Dark World suffers mainly by comparison to Thor and The Avengers, providing a less coherent and less thematically solid story. There's still huge amounts to love, of course – Shakespearean familial machinations, nerd easter eggs and action sequences that make you want to leap from your seat and cheer – but amidst all that, it feels like a film that isn't entirely sure what its story is.

It may be called The Dark World, but it definitely isn't as dark as that implies. There's a huge amount of comedy, much of which is provided by Kat Dennings' Darcy, the Gen-Y intern and surprise breakout character from the original Thor. There's nary a line she utters nor a glance she shoots that doesn't land flawlessly, and her wisecracks fill the void left by the comparative lack of fish-out-of-water comedy moments the likes of which made the original so charming. In a very real way, she saves the plot from getting too po-faced about itself and smoothes out the clunkier moments of exposition. No matter how much of her you see, you want more.

Perhaps spurred by the competition for our affections, Natalie Portman also takes a step up. There's still not a huge amount of chemistry between her and Hemsworth, but this time she throws herself into the role to the same degree that Anthony Hopkins decides to phone it in as Odin. It helps that she's given more to do, more to say, and in particular her interactions with Loki are screen dynamite. But there's something telling about the way the film's romantic subplot is resolved as a literal afterthought. This isn't the Thor and Foster show, like the first film - the creative team has long since realised that the relationship that matters in this film is Thor and Loki.

If anything's above reproach, it's the way the film uses London. Marvel knows the value of conveying a sense of place, and just as New York delighted audiences in The Avengers, London gets its time in the spotlight this time around. You can't fault its use of iconic locations (but not obvious ones – no Big Ben here!) save for the sole complaint that we don't get a shot of Thor channelling lightning down The Shard, which seems like a no-brainer.

The British texture is woven right into the film's fabric, from the University of Greenwich to the police's high-vis jackets to the most prominent use of a can of Vimto that the medium of cinema will likely ever produce. It gives the film a completely different look and feel to the first, but at the same time it's a perfect fit for the character.

Perhaps the most surprising plot thread revolves around Thor and Loki's relationship with Frigga, something that's great to see particularly in the context of a cinematic landscape dominated by father-son narratives. It's a shame we don't see more of it, given how her story concludes, because it asks us to fill in rather more about her importance than we're capable of doing comfortably. More than most, this arc is saved from failure by Hiddleston, whose strengths are such that when Frigga asks if she's his real mother, he says "no", but we can tell that he's thinking "yes".

What's intriguing is that even as Marvel's naming conventions attempt to break free of the 'trilogy' mentality – this isn't called 'Thor 2', nor will we see a movie named 'Captain America 2' – the film itself has the distinct feeling of a middle-instalment. It's downbeat. Bad things happen to good people because they do the right thing. The victories are pyrrhic. Threads are started then dropped - Sif and Thor's relationship, Heimdall's allegiances, Odin's grief… – even the final scene is a cliffhanger. It couldn't be more The Empire Strikes Back if the hero got his hand… oh, right, yeah.

The problem, though, is Malekith. For all the plates the film tries to keep spinning, this is the one that wobbles too much. Malekith's motivations are flimsy, free from all subtext and complexity, and thinly-articulated to the point of one-dimensionality. Christopher Eccleston is horrendously under-used, and it doesn't help that most of his dialogue is in a made-up Elvish tongue.

On the press tour, director Alan Taylor has suggested that a lot of Malekith's backstory and interactions with the heroes was cut from the running time, and if that's true then we can't help but wonder if it was a mistake to lose it. Without a credible villain - no matter how hard Eccleston works - the story lacks the urgency and gravitas it needs, and no amount of Malekith killing major cast members can replace a well-realised personality. Discounting The Incredible Hulk's Abomination on a technicality (it was a Paramount co-production!) Malekith is easily the weakest antagonist in a Marvel Studios movie yet.

So that's Thor: The Dark World in a nutshell. It makes the right moves, delivers the right flourishes, but somehow it's missing the secret ingredient that takes it from good to great. Like Iron Man 2, there's a lot of giving the audience what we thought we wanted – higher stakes, team-ups and a more serious treatment of the material - but maybe it should've been a bit more Iron Man 3, and given us something we didn't realise we wanted instead. The original Thor movie wasn't perfect, but it knew what it was doing and got most of the way there. This one doesn't know what it's doing, and ends up halfway to about three different places instead.

So definitely go and see Thor: The Dark World. Laugh at its jokes, revel in spending time with the characters, and try to not to lose your grip when the story makes a leap you weren't ready for. It's still a better waste of two hours than most blockbusters this year will be. But for a film about gods, it's a shame that for all its bluster, it doesn't quite deserve the worship you want to bestow on it.

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Finally viewed this yesterday.Whatever the movies problems depicting Malekith's background and hatred of Asgard,i still found it to be more satisfying than Iron Man 3.I thought Iron Man 3's story was a little repetitive as the first film had already proved how ingenious and resourceful Stark can be when he's deprived of access to technology and money and the cute kid sidekick storyline was annoying as hell.The Dark World was a more effective blockbuster action movie with the spectacle of Malekith and Thor's battle in London and the character work around Thor and Loki and the Thor/Jane romance.They do spend too much time explaining how Thor can be around on Earth which is awkward and ridiculous considering he's an Avenger too .That needs to be simplified now as dealing with that storyline just takes up too much of the movies running time .Seems to me Eccleston would be a brilliant choice for Black Bolt, if Marvel did an Inhumans movie since much of his work in this was dialogue free and physical and it would be great to see him working with Karen Gillan as Medusa.

When I read that they cut Malekith's back story I got the impression it was for the sake of the pace, but I thought it was relentless, fast with no break.
I loved it, I couldn't believe it was at the end so soon, but it could easily have coped with a drop in pace to tell Malekith's back story, in fact I would say it need that break to let people catch their breath back in the middle.

The humour worked well, with maybe Thor in the subway being a wee bit tonely off for when it happened. Loki's TA-DA as they escaped Asgard got a huge laugh

It did set up the third Thor with a lot to explore and surely he has ultimately got to want to claim his birthright.

I loved it, the first film was always one of the weaker 3 of the MCU to me (Hulk and IM2 being the other 2), however I really want the home media release just to see the extra Malekith scenes that were cut.

I know it hasn't been officially announced but there must already be plans for another film. I know the main cliffhanger is about Loki, but it'll be interesting to see how Odin reacts to the events of the film. Also I wonder if the cameo appearance is included in the actors contracted appearances or not? I do hope not.

I quite agree the use of Eccleston was poor, we do know what he can do and we should have more. I can't help but think that a great flick could have been better if only they would have focus more on Malekith and given the extra oomph

It was fun. I saw the mid-credits Guardians of the Galaxy scene, what was the final end credits extra Scene?
I assume Thor 3 will be ragnarok?

Thor comes down to Earth, kisses Foster. Camera shifts to a roof top where the Frost Beast is chasing birds like a puppy. Fade to black and "Thor Will Return" comes up James Bond style.

Thanks. My friend had to catch the last train!

Yeah, he wasn't that interesting. If the rumours are true, they went with more Loki stuff.

which I can understand but why get such a great actor for such a minor character then...

I thought it was great, incredibly entertaining and legitimately funnier than Iron Man 3. Honestly, Loki basically stole the entire film in terms of humour, aside from putting Thor on the Tube. The surprise cameo of "Captain America" got a massive laugh in my theatre, as well as Loki's incredibly deadpan "Ta-da." on emerging into Svartalfheim.

The plot was kinda shaky, but you can't really expect much given that it was the third Marvel film to be concentrated on a MacGuffin that does a Bad Thing. And my theatre was mostly comprised of Loki fangirls, there was an audible "MMMmmmm" at his first appearance, as well as basically an uproar at his "death" scene (during which my girlfriend literally turned and whimpered).

Also, I really want to know just what Loki's done with Odin, as there's no way he could be impersonating him without having incapacitated him in some way.

Can I just one thing that hasn't been said anywhere yet? I love how good the credits for these films are? They each have their own very distinctive visual style and the imagery in Thor actually made amazing use of the 3D.

As for the film, I concur, great achievement, right mix of comedy and action and some interesting fight scenes with new uses of Thor's powers. Loved that they fleshed out more of the Asgardians (Yay for Heimdall, Boo for Sif.)

Will they release an extended cut? That might be the thing that finally persuades me to switch to blu-ray discs, they didn't have a DVD version of World War Z Extended!

I might be wrong but I think the Inhumans are owned by fox, since they own The Fantastic Four.

I think you are.I've seen interviews with Kevin Feige which have indicated otherwise.Not sure they would have been parcelled with the FF since they've had a trademarked comicbook separately and i'm sure the character rights would probably have reverted to Marvel by now since Fox did'nt use them in their previous movies anyway.Considering their increased prominence in Marvel comics stories ,they seem to be increasing their profile with their audience now.I could be wrong too though as i'm just speculating.

It's almost a shame that Marvel know they've got a cash cow with Loki/Hiddlestone. Would have been far more dramatically satisfying to keep Loki dead; his story reached it's natural end point.

Agreed on the animation sequence in the credits, it did look terrific in 3D.

Definitely agree on some of the weaknesses, although personally I found the strengths pretty comprehensively outweighed them. A few of my favourite bits, for anyone who's interested:

1) The funeral scene. I thought that was one of the most visually stunning, emotive, poetic scenes that any of the Marvel films have managed. Genuinely spine-chilling.

2) The comedy - it's really, REALLY funny. That L Chap points out some of the best comedy moments down below (or possibly above, depending on where this comment ends up) - Captain America's "shall we have an inspiring talk about patriotism" cameo, Thor on the tube, pretty much every Loki wisecrack, their bitchy double act. And obviously Darcy - they should lose Jane Foster entirely, and have Darcy as Thor's non-romantically-inclined companion. Although I wasn't entirely sure about Selvig's mad scientist behaviour, the whole lack-of-pants thing was a bit too trying-to-be-Walter-Bishop for my tastes.

3) 'SPLOSIONS AND PUNCHINGS! SLIDING DOWN THE GHERKIN! ATTACKING ON TEH AZGARDZ! THINGZ BLOWINGZ UPPP BIG HAMMAH IN TEH FAAACE;'88'###

Yeah I really liked it.

There's an interview with Chris Evans where he explicitly says those cameos DO count on their contracted appearances. So hopefully that means he will just renegotiate for the money he deserves to make Cap 3 or Avengers 3, since he's on a 6 picture deal.

Similarly for Johansson, Jackson, etc etc.

Kat Dennings certainly stood out and I actually laughed at how "covered up" they kept her, no place for those assets in a family movie! Her performance was hilarious and warming.

The Captain's cameo had me cracking up

All I am going to say (I saw it last night) is i liked it and compared to IM3 its bloody brilliant!

Agree on this, although Loki is such a great presence that a 3rd Thor film without him would automatically suffer. I do think someone important should have died in the film (and I don't mean Rene "one scene" Russo) - probably Odin if not Loki.

agreed. he could have filmed a Doctor Who cameo while getting paid for this.

oh dear, if only...

Still improving with repeat viewings for me.Certainly my favourite action movie of the year.Noticed the late Miss Evangelista,Talulah Riley making one of her Inception style blockbuster movie cameo appearances during the scene where Jane Foster is analysed in Asgard.

I loved the movie, the story was well told and the characters kept firm to their beliefs and morals (though it's true that Malekith was a bit one-dimensional). The many twists and turns were amazing, and watching the movie I wish I didn't know about Loki cutting off Thor's hand, it would've made it even better for me. Still great, though, I love it more than the first one, because the first just set to stage for the second, which offers so much more! Oh yeah, and the post-credits scene teases a lot of interesting stuff for the future of the movie franchise! Can't wait for more (but sadly, I have to)

Odin could be dead, and it mate very well turn out that Loki killed him to usurp the throne. Quite dark, yet very realistic and in-tact with Loki's character in my opinion.

I agree on Cap's cameo, the overall humour, Loki's part (duh!)... everything you said, really! But, most of all, I loved the twists and turns, which were all over the place! Let's hope the Winter Soldier has the same elements (the first Cap movie was, well, boring IMO).

I'll let them have the lack of pants thing as long as they keep it isolated to this film- lets face it, given the amount of medication he was taking we're lucky he didn't start hallucinating at any point. Plus, the Stonehenge gag got the first genuine laugh of the film in my cinema, just for the out-of-the-blue, left field sheer audacity.

Is nobody going to mention the fact that Loki technically won? He got what he wanted and Thor hasn't even noticed yet. The first MCU film to end with a direct cliffhanger so far (if you don't count the post credit scenes) and, in my opinion, the strongest ending we've had yet. And the mid-credit scene seems to indicate that the infinity gauntlet will be coming up, which ties in with the tease of Thantos. The future of MCU looks even better than it did last week, which is quite an achievement given Marvels reputation!
As a stand alone, the film is a strong instalment. The main problem, as many have pointed out, is he lack of coverage given to Eccleston's character. I'd be interested to so how much of the running time was cut, because the film certainly wouldn't have suffered for adding an extra 15 minutes. I don't blame them for adding extra Loki material (lets face it, Hiddleston steals every seen he's with in 10 ft of) but I can't help but feel they could have had the best of both worlds here. Otherwise, the Frigga arch was brilliant, and the funeral scene that it culminated in was probably the most haunting Marvel scene to date, and the humour was spot on. Putting some of the funniest gags slap bang in the middle of the climax (I'm looking at you, tube station scene!) was a brave move that undoubtedly paid off, and Loki's backseat driving, complete with deadpan 'ta dah!' when he was finally allowed near the wheel was a real, genuine highlight. A real delight.

I loved how we got to see a lot more of Asgard! It felt like a full world, rather than just the fancy road to the Bifrost and the palace.

Oh, and Zachary Levi... need to watch some Chuck now! :)

I'd be surprised if Marvel would kill Odin off-Screen, surely that's the sort of dramatic, must-be-avenged death that third-act dreams are made of! More likely he's imprisoned in some sort of realm somewhere (imagine Loki would get a kick out of keeping him alive to torture him too? Frankly this stuff writes itself...)

i'll be honest not seen the first thor but i did enjoy this film,
especially the second half. for me though the weakest part is chris
hemsworth, surely? not that its especially bad just that dumb voice and
lack of charisma, tom hiddleston carries a lot of the film. eccleston
wasn't giving enough meat to his role and done the best he could.
anthony hopkins was just there, bit of a phone in from him. natalie
portman ive almost forgiven for being in star wars prequels! if we are talking comedy then iron man 3 wins out due to RDJ and ben kingsley. still this was great fun.

Cannot believe anybody can claim Hemsworth is not worthy of Mjolnir.It's really unlikely these films would be as successful as they are if Chris Hemsworth is as charisma free as you think and i'm pretty sure Hiddleston would say that playing against Hemsworth is why he's been so good in these movies.I was especially impressed by his fight with the CGI Hulk in Avengers Assemble which he sold really well.I think Joss Whedon and Kenneth Branagh have also gone on record publicly about his strength as an actor never mind his physical presence.If he was charisma free there's no way he would have been cast as James Hunt in Rush either.

Enjoyed this much more than the bore fest that was iron man 3. The best 2nd phase movie so far and one of my favourites of the entire run.

Nah, it's Loki, coming back from the dead is pretty much his schtick at this point. The comics even went to great lengths to show him surviving decapitation! Besides it's set up the next Thor film beautifully with a ton of questions left to answer and I for one cannot wait for the confrontation between the brothers that will surely ensue.

I guess. I just feel as though Marvel don't want to take any risks and kill anyone major off. A truly 'noble death' as Thor described it would have been more befitting the characters arc as far as the movies are concerned.

Malekith was a much stronger villain than Whiplash. Sad not to see his background, but I think James is wrong to say he wasn't menacing.

It had sufficient twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat. Plus, I really expected Jane to die.

But at least now they are tying the macguffins together in the build up to GOTG and avengers 3.

4 stars from me. Aside from underusing the Warriors Three and Sif, and Malekith not being the greatest of villains, it was entertaining, exciting, funny, engaging and well performed. And that'll do for me.

Plus, what are the odds that in the same year the Eleventh Doc rode up the Shard, the 9th fell down it. :)

There really was plenty of shameless exploitative imagery for the purposes of appeasing the fangirl audience with Loki in chains and Thunder God enjoying bath scenes.It was inevitable after Loki's scheming in Avengers Assemble that he was going to be paraded like that but Alan Taylor really made the most of it with close ups.Still,we were spared the Dark elf sex scenes at least.

Oh,i forgot to mention the gratuitous Professor Skelvig nudity,how did that happen?

i wasn't criticising his acting in other films. for me and im not really a thor fan remember, hemsworth does a decent job no more than that in my opinion. not even on the same planet of what RDJ's personality and charisma does to the iron man series. actors/directors buttering each other up? never!

Somehow,i could tell you were an RDJ Fan,what a surprise.

I do like RDJ and the Iron Man series too though,incidentally.Just Teasing.Perhaps.But I definitely can't agree there's anything weak about Chris Hemsworths contribution to these movies .

Except that Loki is in no way noble and would never miss an opportunity to achieve his goals.

I think the line was "Let's have a rousing discussion about truth, and patriotism. God bless Amer-"

I was thinking that too. If people wanted a main character to die, I would have been far more satisfied with Jane's death than Loki's or Odin's.

I was thinking Jane was going to die. I would have been more satisfied with that too than a Loki or Odin death. If Loki died I would have pretty much no urge to see any further Thor films, I mean without Loki who's Thor?

As far as the lack of Malekith's background goes, it's always nice to find out as much as possible, but I didn't feel it effected the film really. It would be worse if there was forced exposition. Plus, it kind of makes sense, as the Asgardians themselves didn't really know. Just a 'before the 9 realms' thing going on.

"Take this train, 3 stops" FROM CHARING CROSS?!!!?! Come on Hollywood!!!!

I actually found Kat Dennings' character really irritating this time round. Shame.

fair enough. i did say weakest part to me, not necessarily that its bad or anything. he does a decent job, just that maybe someone else could have brought more personality to it. for another example i thought henry cavill is a great superman. rdj,cavill and jackman resonate with me more than hemsworth, just my own feelings towards hemsworth role here. something about that voice irks me haha. maybe id prefer an older actor to play thor i dunno who though. its just a comic book movie i wont get too worked up haha

your girlfriend is dumb.

the god of thunder.

nah, prison.

Good for you. It's called being emotionally invested in the narrative, which I was also. It's usually a sign of a skillfully put-together film. Now, if we can refrain from insulting our significant others over (I'm presuming) a difference of opinion, that would be great.

Maybe in the comics, but Movie-Loki (to me anyway) is a far more tragic figure and to have achieved redemption of a sort via a noble death would have ended his storyline perfectly. I've no doubt the Loki/cliffhanger ending was one of the reshot scenes.

Spoilers!

a better screen choice would have been to not reveal Loki replacing Odin in the main movie but to have Loki order the Aether sent to the collector and then as Odin/Loki, inform Thanos about it. the final credits scene with Thor and Jane could have made it to the main movie as well.

I disagree, he's the same in the films. He tried to kill Thor in the first film by sending the Destroyer after him as part of his plan to rule Asgard and after that failed he aligned himself with the Chitauri to try and take over earth and again tried to kill Thor. I don't see him as hugely tragic as he's fully aware of the effects his plans will have and happily goes through with them. His adoptive mother seems to have been the only entity he wouldn't go through to achieve some sort of power.

He's Swedish?

Ha!Good point but unfortunately i suspect there was considerably less fangirl awe around for Professor Selvigs' nudity than Hemsworths' topless scenes or Hiddleston chained up.Swedish people certainly have my admiration for their reputation for nudity considering their climate though.I guess it's quite appropriate there's a scandinavian supporting character in the franchise considering it's where the mythology of the films and comics came from.

So basically everyone, apart from Thor, is evil. Odin's dead right?

I thought this was fantastic as usual Tom hiddlestons performance was infallible

Finally watched it. More Heimdall! This movie had Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, and Chris Evans. Ghost Rider 2, Punisher: War Zone, and Fantastic Four (both of em, obviously)

It was a great ending, yes, the best yet apart from Thanos' reveal. But since that's in the credits... Loki wins even more! I can't believe what a great villain he's become.

If anything, the 'exploitative' stuff of Thor and Loki is still nothing compared to the gratuity with which so many female characters are exploited. Perhaps not as often in Marvel, but generally in blockbusters it's the women who get objectified. There's still glimpses of it in Gwyneth Paltrow in yoga leggings and crop-top at the end of Iron Man 3 and the way Black Widow was marketed on Avengers posters (the film itself managed not to get TOO leery at the woman in the skin-tight catsuit, god bless Whedon).

So I suppose it's a case of, if they're not gonna stop objectifying women (again, I admit, Marvel does this much less than many other blockbuster franchises *cough*AliceEveinIntoDarkness*cough*) then at least they're objectifying men in equal measure. It's some kind of balance, at least...

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