|I will not write 'it's hammer time'; I will not write ... oh, what |
the hey. It is hammer time!
|If all you have is a hammer, everything looks |
like a ... Dark Elf?
It's a good look!
The film starts after the events of The Avengers. Having helped to save (read: "destroy") New York, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard, his adopted brother Loki is safely behind bars (well, a magical force field), and the Tesseract is once more in the custodianship of top god, Odin.
With the reset button firmly pressed, then, the second movie begins - like the first - with a fantasy battle which could have been lifted straight from The Lord of the Rings. However, whereas Thor's battle against the Frost Giants in Jotunheim seemed to take place on a claustrophobic studio set, this battle (against new baddies, the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim) takes place out in the open, on Vanaheim, and was apparently shot on location, thereby making the Nine Realms mentioned in the first film seem just a little more real.
Similarly, Asgard itself which in Thor looked like a matte painting of a bunch of organ pipes suspended above a great black void, here looks like a real city, easily as impressive as the great Dwarven kingdom of Erebor in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It's a magical place with breathtaking panoramic views, exotic buildings, open spaces and a waterfall to rival the Falls of Rauros.
But Thor: the Dark World isn't set entirely on alien worlds. The Earth-bound scenes are set in London which is probably just as well since New York is doubtless still cleaning up after the onslaught unleashed upon it in The Avengers. As a Londoner myself, it was nice to see areas of London not usually featured in a Hollywood blockbuster, the climax unfolding at Greenwich rather than, say, the London Eye. For any non-Londoners planning to visit the city to see the movie locations, however, please note that - contrary to the advice given in the film - Greenwich is NOT just three stops from Charing Cross on the tube. (It's more like fifteen and you'll need to change trains. Twice. So do allow plenty of time for your journey!)
|Sif, a woman in a man's profession.|
With a child's shield.
The plot involves a source of unimaginable power (yes, another one!) called the Aether. The Dark Elves want it and, for reasons I can't disclose without giving away plot spoilers, they're going to have to go through Thor's love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to get it. Cue the fisticuffs and much slinging of Mjolnir.
If the landscapes and backdrops of the Nine Realms are more impressive in this sequel, then so too is the action. Combat sequences are fast-paced and, as before, manage to highlight at least one signature move for each of our main protagonists. Most satisfying visually, however, is Thor's hammer itself. Whether it's being hurled, whirled or struck, it fairly crackles with lightning!
What's more, unlike the first movie's woefully under-equipped Frost Giants, the Dark Elves fly space ships and wield weapons that shoot energy beams, allowing the film to move seamlessly from high fantasy to hard SciFi in a way that we probably haven't seen on screen since Flash Gordon in the 1980s. In some respects, this is one of the film's weaknesses. It looks cool but, when Asgard's prisoners escape from their cells, you can't help but wonder why - in a universe which includes laser weapons and traditional firearms - would the guards immediately rush to arm themselves with nothing more lethal than swords and spears?
Fortunately, like the better episodes of Marvel's hit TV show, Agents of SHIELD, the action generally moves fast and furiously enough to mask such plot holes. If the the first law of a sequel is that it has to be a bigger, brasher and faster spectacle than the movie it follows, then Thor: the Dark World ticks all three boxes.
|Dark Elves. Similar in appearance to Doctor Who's Cybermen.|
But with pointy ears.
Of course, bigger and flashier action set pieces don't necessarily guarantee success. For me, one of the key strengths of the first film was its sense of humour and, since much of that humour stemmed from Thor's misunderstanding of the ways of the human world, I had serious doubts as to whether the sequel could successfully retain that sense of fun without losing credibility. This was, after all, Thor's third visit to we poor mortals down here on Midgard.
|Loki. Born a Frost Giant. Raised as a God.|
And he still whines?
The returning cast members all seem to enjoy reprising their roles, and the banter between them is genuinely funny, smart and in character. I'd never quite understood the adulation heaped on Tom Hiddleston before but, in this film, I must admit he won me over. He was always good as Loki but, this time out, I could actually believe he was Loki. The only major change in characterisation was Erik Selvig. In this film he's reduced to slapstick comic relief which, considering the tragi-heroic role he played in The Avengers, is bound to dismay fans of the character, but I doubt it will trouble the vast majority of cinema-goers.
If there is a criticism to be made of the script it's that there is so much focus on tickling our chuckle bones that the actors really aren't given enough time to emote. When a major character dies (I won't tell you which one but, if you don't mind spoilers, you can find out here!) the actors barely respond. The deceased is given a suitably beautiful send off (another scene which wouldn't have looked out of place in The Lord of the Rings) but I don't think a single character shed so much as a tear. Actors of the calibre of Anthony Hopkins (again sporting Odin's crown) really deserve better from their writers.
|In this film, Jane Foster gets to wear armour.|
For no apparent reason.
Thor: the Dark World has received mixed but generally positive reviews here in the UK. The less enthusiastic critics in the daily press have remarked that it's spectacular but essentially hollow (although they've still awarded it a respectable three out of five stars), while others - principally the specialist movie magazines - have tended to be very positive, typically giving it four out of five.
It's not difficult to argue either way. It's probably safe to say that, if you didn't like Thor, then there's nothing in this movie that's going to make a convert of you. But, by the same token, if you did enjoy the God of Thunder's previous outing, there's a good chance you're going to find this one of those rare sequels that you enjoy more than the original. There's a lot to like.
Kenneth Branagh had the exchanges between Asgard's royal family play out like a Shakespearean tragedy. Sadly, you get none of that weight here and it is missed. What we get instead, and taking its cue from The Avengers, is an unabashed high adrenaline roller-coaster of an action movie; a Saturday matinee popcorn flick. In equal parts Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, and J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, first and foremost this is a movie that just wants you to have fun. And, for my part, I certainly did.
Thor: the Dark World is released in the US today so, as soon as you've seen it, why not let us know how well it's gone down on your side of the Pond? Did it send you into an Odinsleep, or has the lightning managed to strike twice?