It becomes quite apparent within minutes of Thor: The Dark World starting that Marvel’s latest endeavour is not to be the comic book movie that breaks the current trend and tries to contain its goals. Instead, the heavy exposition and recapping is underway immediately. There are nine realms, there’s a convergence that you’re going to be told about more than once (just to make sure you get the point), and there’s an immediate introduction to Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith, a foe so deadly that it required another call to Tom Hiddleston’s agent to demonstrate just how powerful this latest antagonist was.
And in a year that’s brought us Man Of Steel, Thor: The Dark World occasionally tries to go toe-to-toe in its desire to put across wholesale destruction on a cinema screen (albeit not in anywhere near as many prolonged doses, and this time with London in its crosshairs). Furthermore, lots more ingredients are thrown into the mix in the first half. With inevitable mention of The Avengers, and Thor’s failure to return to Jane after the end of the first film to deal with, Thor: The Dark World gamely tries to cover as much ground as it can. There’s a locked up Loki, Jane and her team back on Earth, Stellan Skarsgard on ITV with very few clothes on, and a simmering family saga that brings together Thor, Loki, Odin and Frigga. It’s a busy, fast, chatty film, not least as it tries to establish and manage its many, many moving parts.
It’s inevitably a lot to grapple with, and it means that the first half at least of Thor: The Dark World struggles to find something to really hold onto. The film jumps genres, it flits between a noticeably heavy amount of storytelling in places (certainly it makes sure it double-bags its recap of what’s gone before, along with its stern warnings of what’s to come) and it makes sure to throw in the odd big battle before quickly going off and attending to other business.
Compared to the concentration of the early stages in Kenneth Branagh’s original Thor film, The Dark World can’t help but come off a little poorer. It’s lacking much in the way of glue to hold its at-first disparate parts together, and it finds itself juggling characters, narrative and scenes in a Game Of Thrones style – you can see why impressive director Alan Taylor got the job – just at double the speed.
But then, Thor 2 finds its feet and strikes gold. Marvel movies have always had humour to them, and the first Thor itself wasn’t short of chuckles. Thor: The Dark World, though, has a long stretch where it has the right to call itself one of the funniest films of the year. Not ironic, unintentional humour either: proper scripted moments, great performances, and at least two wonderful touches that should bring the house down, doubly so if you’re of a geek persuasion (in fact, there’s a treasure trove for hardcore Marvel fans to uncover throughout much of the movie).
Said vein of humour, which doesn’t undermine other things going on in the film, then seems to flood the movie with more confidence and coherence, and the second half, notwithstanding a massive computer graphics splurge, feels all the better for it.
In particular, credit has to go to Kat Dennings, reprising her role as Darcy, whose pitch-perfect delivery of lines consistently enlivens the scenes she’s let near. Marvel’s not shy about exploring potential spin-offs for characters, but count us in if it ever decides to give Darcy more of the limelight. She’s the inquisitive, dry outsider, and given the weight of talent she shares the screen with, it’s to Dennings’ immense credit that, when the credits roll – with some superb illustrative work over the end titles, it should be said – you’ll be wishing the movie had spent more time with her. She’s just brilliant, as anyone who spent time with Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist already knows.
That said, the main attraction in The Dark World is still Thor and Loki. It perhaps goes without saying, but we’re going for it anyway, that the double act of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston – comfortably the best thing about the original Thor – gives this sequel lots of strong material too. And whilst moments of gravitas in the first half of the movie don’t feel like they necessarily have the impact they should, as Thor 2 crosses the hour mark, that is addressed, and both Hiddleston and Hemsworth are on excellent form. Admirers of Hemsworth’s bulging biceps, incidentally, will not feel short-changed here. Meanwhile, Hiddleston firmly cements his standing as the crown prince of Marvel movies.
Elsewhere amongst the ensemble, Chris O’Dowd gets a fun cameo, and Idris Elba’s deadpan Heimdall makes a welcome return. Perhaps the most fun of the supporting returnees is the evolution of Stellan Skargard’s Dr Erik Selvig, for reasons we won’t spoil here. Thor: The Dark World is also, to our knowledge, the only one of this year’s blockbusters that uses a can of Vimto to demonstrate a point.
What doesn’t work quite as well is the short shrift given to Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith. Eccleston’s performance here is genuinely a strong one, even though he’s buried under make-up, and surrounded by an abundance of effects work. He is, for large parts, a calm but immense force, not worried about niceties, and instead making nasty decisions for reasons he believes in.
The problem is that we get scattered bits of Malekith’s story, but not quite enough meat. We get the pay-off, but we don’t get that much of the build-up and aftermath. It feels – and Marvel’s Kevin Feige has all but confirmed this – that too much of Malekith has been pared back to get to a sub-two hour final cut. So instead of getting a genuinely forceful villain, you get bits of one, and large hints that the character could and should have been more.
It also doesn’t help that Thor: The Dark World keeps going back to Loki, who may not be the most powerful foe in the film, but he’s the most rounded. It’s hard not to feel as though Eccleston got the short end of the stick in the edit suite, and ultimately far too little screen time.
In all, it’s a bit of a muddle of a film this, one that could have done with a better before and after to some of its big moments, and would arguably have also felt the benefit of slightly lower stakes. And yet, after a few spluttering starts, it does burst into life, majestically so, with plenty of delightful moments (not least for Marvel geeks), and a generous collection of very, very good laughs. Even if it’s not challenging to be Marvel’s best film, it’s certainly its funniest.
Do make sure you stay for the mid-end-credits sequence too, which is nerd gold, and the post end credits moment that’s simply very funny. Do that, and then you’ll get teased with a card declaring ‘Thor will return’. And off the back of Thor: The Dark World – with its warts and all – that’s no bad thing…
Thor: The Dark World is out on the 30th October in the UK.
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