Despite what many a plastic surgeon may be peddling, bigger is not always better. And this is never more prevalent than in movie sequels. We’ve seen far too many filmmakers feel that if they just did more of what they had done before, then they’ve done enough. But quite often, the whole production just collapses into a messy heap under the herculean weight of all that extra everything.
Luckily for Thor: The Dark World though, there are some godly shoulders holding up this production, and they can comfortably carry not just the weight of one massively expanded world, but nine worlds in total, just for good measure.
Right from the Lord of the Rings like opening scene, establishing baddie Malekith (an unrecognizable Chris Eccleston) and his Dark Elf armies and how they brought all the Nine Realms to the brink of stygian destruction 5000 years ago, director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Six Feet Under) lets us know that this is not the Thor movie we’ve seen before. The first film, barring some scenes set in Asgard, was essentially restricted to a dainty town in New Mexico. Here, we traverse alien worlds with mythological purpose and ease. This is not so much world building, as it universe building, and aided by Taylor’s deft hand and some splendid production and costume design (both physical and digital), all these “realms” seem completely real and lived in, unlike the plastic and metal soundstage “Asgard” we saw in the first film.
This expanded mythology also serves the purpose of opening up the wider Marvel universe for all kinds of crazy concepts now, as Thor: The Dark World has everything from magical creatures, to alien technology, to spaceship dog fights, to the coolest hand grenades seen on screen in ages. Christopher Markus, Christopher Yost and Stephen McFeely’s script throws all these ingredients together into one big slobber knocker of a film that works, despite the fact that some elements seem a tad derivative of other sci-fi offerings (I’m expecting the Thor/Portal memes any minute now).
And one of the reasons for that success is not changing the formula for what worked the first time round. As Thor, Chris Hemsworth is still all steely eyes, roguish grins and bulging biceps, a paragon of bravery and honour, as he has to decide between his love for mortal Earthling, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and his birthright of inheriting the throne of Asgard from this father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is still Thor’s perfect foil (and still stealing nearly every scene he’s in), but this time there’s a darker desperation bubbling through his plucky villainy. Something that Thor is forced to contend with when he has to turn to his half brother for help after the threat of Malekith and the Dark Elves returns, placing all the Nine Realms in jeopardy unless Thor and co can stop these new “old” enemies from getting their hands on the mysterious Aether.
What has been changed about the formula though, is that along with showing off more of the universe, Thor: The Dark World also shines the spotlight on way more than just the troubled siblings. Heimdall (Idris Elba), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Thor’s mother Frigga (Rene Russo) and more all get their very own time to shine, with Frigga in particular getting her own rather impressive bout of badassery.
But in the same breath as I applaud the increased sharing of the spotlight, I wish it had just been turned off completely when it comes to some characters. The main culprit being Kat Denning’s intern Darcy, who is not only still totally superfluous to the story, but who now also gets her very own superfluous story beat complete with superfluous love interest. And Darcy Defenders who claim that she’s there for the comic relief? Well, not only are her comedy bits far more miss than hit, but in retrospect she’s actually not needed at all as the rest of the cast really do hold their own amazingly when it comes to the funny business.
Seriously, this film is gut-busting hilarious. I know that Avenger impresario and Geek Overlord Joss Whedon was called in to punch up a few of the scenes, but I’d love to know exactly which ones, as the film is just chock and block full of that trademarked Whedonesque, self-aware humour that will have you shaking with laughter. This is especially true in the film’s final act, when Taylor manages to pull off a balancing act between the humour and big budget action so perfectly that it would make Cirque Du Soleil turn the colour of Hulk’s glutes.
It’s just a pity that this groove isn’t found a bit sooner though as there’s no denying that the film does drag its demigod feet just a smidge in the opening frame, but luckily once it gets going it simply never lets up with either wowing you with thrilling action set pieces, or eliciting convulsive guffaws on a regular basis.
Thor: The Dark World may also suffer from script niggles (the entire return of Malekith and his not-so-cheap Doctor Who extras knockoff army is predicated on the most absurdly convenient coincidence), the plot may get a bit samey in places, and there’s no getting around the fact that the one-note Malekith pales to the point of translucence in comparison to the far more complex Loki as the big bad. But what the film does really well, is to simply forget its own shortcomings and simply run with its concept. It gives the mythology the room it needs to breathe, and fills it all with memorable character moments, the result of which is – and I’ve gone an entire review without a bad pun, so I’m owed this – a Thor-oughly entertaining sequel.
PS: The film actually has both a mid- and post-credits bonus scene, one of which is kind of a big deal, so make sure you stay seated until the cleaning ladies start giving you the evil eye.
PPS: There really isn’t much to the film’s 3D, and I actually felt that due to the darkness – duh! – of some of the settings, it detracted quite a bit from those amazing visuals.
Last Updated: November 6, 2013