Thor: The Dark World
Dir. Alan Taylor
Thor: The Dark World is an interesting beast. 2009’s Thor had two good acts sandwiching a rather boring middle section; Kenneth Branagh, somehow roped into directing, gave us a captivating Asgard and a dreary Earth, the former brimming with personality and majesty and the latter dotted with boring mortals. The romance plot sank it, Natalie Portman’s love interest being neither loveable nor interesting. Thor 2 papers over some of the cracks; more of the film is spent away from Earth (here represented by a bizarrely lifeless version of London) and in less familiar climes, which can only be a good thing, and new director Alan Taylor wisely plays up the laughs, which were just about the only thing worth salvaging from Thor‘s second act.
Then (appropriately), some new cracks open up. Thor 2‘s main plot is laughable. Literally. The cinema was laughing through the entire introductory flashback, which involved DARK ELVES trying to bring DARKNESS using DARK MATTER. The main villain is so perfunctory that nobody even realised he was played by a heavily made-up Christopher Eccleston until the credits, and the universe-ending plot comes off as weirdly irrelevant. Thor‘s greatest strength, of course, was the trifecta of Thor himself – played with a star-making swagger by the boomingly charismatic Chris Hemsworth, who’s staking a firm claim on being the next Brad Pitt – alongside Anthony Hopkins’ suitably grand Odin and Tom Hiddleston’s show-stealing Loki, as well as the Shakespearean dynamics of desire, pride, resentment, vengeance, and above all love, which Branagh marshaled with his usual flourish. Thor 2 falls flat here. Hopkins clearly decided it wasn’t worth bringing his A-game for Taylor and faxes it in (phoning was too much effort). Hiddleston is still the film’s emotional core, which further undermines Portman’s useless character while simultaneously lessening the film by having him locked away under Asgard for much of it. It’s thoroughly unsurprising when the best twenty minutes of the film is the only twenty minutes with Loki and Thor together.
Somehow, Portman is even less relevant than she was in the first film: a remarkable achievement. Her entire role, shared with an amusingly slapdash Stellan Skarsgard and a generally amusing Kat Dennings, feels shoehorned in and pointless. I’m inclined to side with Odin here. Why does Thor care for her? The audience certainly doesn’t. The film dares to hint at a love triangle involving the significantly more interesting warrior-woman Sif, but then completely fails to follow through. It feels as if important scenes were cut somewhere down the line, and the whole character narrative feels disjointed and clunky.
But Thor 2 is redeemed to some extent by the sheer quality of the areas it doesn’t stumble in. Aesthetically, Asgard and its denizens are spectacular; the unusually frequent action is coherent, dynamic, and peppered with moments of clever comedy; the soundtrack remains as stirringly bombastic as in the first film; and Fandral. Everybody loves Fandral. And Heimdall, who seems remarkably bad at doing his only job.
The bottom line is that Thor 2 has a dreadful, risible main plot and an irrelevant main villain, forces a love interest nobody likes, and underutilises its greatest asset in Loki – but although this main plot pillar is rotten, the rest of the film is sufficiently gaudy, pacy, and funny that it more or less stands up on its own. Again, we’re left wondering what might have been if the hackneyed old romance plot were replaced with something remotely compelling, but Thor 2 is still a reasonably good film. It just could have been better and, when compared to the first film, I have to say it comes off as a bit of a Thor loser.