Alan Taylor’s ‘Phase Two’ offering Thor: The Dark World (2013) sees Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god return in his second standalone movie, and provides much of the humour, full-on special effects and breathtaking set pieces we have come to expect from the Marvel Studios production line. The Nine Realms are once again in danger from an ancient enemy – namely the Dark Elves (led by Malekith, a difficult to recognise Christopher Eccleston). The villains are opening portals throughout the universe as they seek to return and wreak their vengeance against their Asgard vanquishers, with Thor’s father, Odin, among them.
One such portal affects Jane (Natalie Portman) as she stumbles through it during her astrophysics research in London and becomes infected by its magical properties. In order to defeat Malekith and save the woman he loves, Thor must enlist the dubious help of his imprisoned brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston in crowd-pleasing form) and go into battle. Taking over from Kenneth Branagh’s small-town yet creditable effort, Taylor’s romp broadens its scope whilst at the same time maintaining the quick-fire humour that has become as much a trademark of the Marvel machine as superpowers and the destroying of capital cities. Hemsworth has also grown comfortably into the role of the Nordic looking lunk with the big metal hammer.
The weak link in the otherwise stellar cast is Portman, whose plain Jane super-brain is a poorly pulled-off damsel in distress, whilst the subplot of her intern (an excruciatingly annoying Kat Dennings) and her intern’s intern is wincingly irritating. Though his brilliant cinematic debut Palookaville (1995) is a gem worth digging up, Taylor – like Avengers director Joss Whedon – is a veteran of TV. As such, the Marvel universe is beginning to feel like a very big television show we happen to go to the cinema to see. Part of the problem with the episode that is The Dark World is its medium scale; whilst it has to be bigger than Branagh’s earlier film, it still can’t be as big as Avengers Assemble or its looming sequel, Age of Ultron.
So the universe is in mortal danger but not quite as much as it was, or will be, and despite the obligatory use of the word ‘dark’ in the title, no one needs to take The Dark World particularly seriously. Repetition of the formula is also beginning to wear thin as yet another city – London – becomes a battleground for a conflict derived from some gobbledygook exposition. We begin with a worrying expository voiceover intoned by Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in an unhappy flashback to Oliver Stone’s Alexander) about the doings of his unfortunately-named father, Bor. Although Thor doesn’t bore, there is some dissonance in a film about the God of Thunder just being par for the course.