There, increasingly, seems to be two types of film in modern cinema – Marvel and DC comic-book superhero movies, and everything else. Each summer for as far back as anyone can remember, the Hollywood big guns have been churning out the latest film based on a seemingly endless back catalogue of men with supernatural powers who run around saving the human race whilst dressed in tight fitting shorts, spandex bodysuits and 21st century body-armour. 2013 has already seen Wolverine, Superman and Iron Man returning to save the world, and now it appears the legendary Thor wants in on the act too. Picking up a couple of years after Thor (2011) ended, Thor: The Dark World (2013) – this time with Alan Taylor taking over the directorial responsibilities from Kenneth Brannagh – though fun, is really more of the same in all but name.
The ancient enemy Malekith The Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), Ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim has arisen to take revenge upon Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the people of Asgard. It is up to Odin’s son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to save the kingdom from the encroaching evil. However, it’s only when Malekith threatens The human race, and in particular Thor’s erstwhile girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), that the superhero is forced to join forces with an unlikely ally in the form of his embittered stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and face his destiny once and for all.
If, as mentioned, modern films are either superhero extravaganzas or not, then cinema-going audiences for the first group, fall into one of three brackets. First there are those who have (and probably will) never see such films. Then you get those who will watch them and, whilst enjoying them, are happy to forget the experience and move on as soon as the film has ended. Finally you get the last category (and these are the ones the studios are depending on) who are – there’s really no kind way to say this – obsessed with the genre. They have all the comics, know all the characters, their backstories, who has been in a relationship with who (and believe me, these films are all about sex, even if it is hidden beneath adolescent, peck-on-the-cheek innocence) and who is superior to who in the superhero hierarchy.
If this is your approach to such films, you will probably enjoy the experience of watching Thor: The Dark World even more than if you are a mere human filmgoer. If however, like me, you fall into the main category of ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ and then move on, you will still find plenty that’s fun within this mad romp, including some great set-pieces, a cast whose major characters are way more beautiful than is surely legal, and a screenplay which, though at times verging on the cringeworthy, also produces some sharp one-liners as well as self-reflexive humour. It is also good for a change to see the action of such a major studio production taking place outside of America, in this case London. However this is also one of the film’s major stumbling blocks. When Earthly destruction comes (and come it certainly does), it seems reserved for Greenwich and its immediate area. With the whole of London at its disposal there’d have been plenty of chance to rip the city up on a major scale, which leaves you feeling that this was a major missed chance on the behalf of the filmmakers.
However, the real fun with this film are the parts set on Thor’s home planet of Asgard. Here we meet Thor’s parents (excellent turns from Hopkins as Odin and Rene Russo as Frigga), his adopted troublesome brother Loki (Hiddleston just gets better and better) and the villain of the piece Malekith (an unrecognisable Eccleston). If truth be told though the characters, including Thor and his feisty human girlfriend Jane (Portman, looking so fragile you feel she might break if you touch her) – who this time round finds herself a major player as the story unfolds – are really irrelevant to the film’s main attraction – the special effects. As mentioned before they could have made more of the destruction scenes set on Earth, though these are undeniably impressive. Instead it’s the action which takes place on Asgard that really enthrals the viewer. Watching it you can’t help but feel that this is a dry run for what Disney may do with their new Star Wars franchise, with racing spaceship fights, grand extraterrestrial cities, and deadly aliens both bad and good. As such I personally can’t wait to see if they can put some much needed life back into the stories involving Luke, Leia and Han.
So there you have it really. Sometimes critics forget what a privileged position they are in seeing films often weeks before everyone else, as well as attending press conferences in the presence of film stars which mere mortal fans would give their back teeth to be at. Often you think they, like everyone else, should take these films at face-value and not read too much into them. Maybe if we all did that we’d be able to relax and enjoy movies like Thor: The Dark World in the spirit in which they are intended.
* * * 1/2
Release Date: 30th October 2013 (UK) 7th November 2013 (USA)
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston ,Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander