By the time Thor: The Dark World enters its climactic battle sequence, director Alan Taylor finally decides to abandon all pretence of narrative logic, teleporting characters and giant beasts willy-nilly across the nine worlds of Marvel’s co-opted Norse mythology. It, like the film as a whole, is a bit of a shambles, but also quite fun.
This sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and also to Avengers Assemble, may feature the word ‘dark’ in its title, but in reality takes itself only slightly more seriously than the first film did, and indeed goes for more outright comic tone. This is both a blessing and a curse, because although the film is frequently funny, it also never really musters up a sense of genuine peril or, crucially, interest in its story.
The story picks up a little while after the events of Avengers Assemble (which, like in Iron Man 3, are referred to only in little asides and throwaway japes). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busying tidying up the nine realms for his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been confined to the castle dungeons on account of his trying to subjugate Earth and killing loads of people.
This film begins, as its predecessor did, with a contrived introduction to an ancient enemy – in Thor it was Frost Giants; here it’s Dark Elves – narrated with barely concealed indifference by Hopkins. And his indifference will quickly be mirrored by our own: the backstory to the Dark Elves here really is run of the mill stuff, and no matter how much Christopher Eccleston, (playing the leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith), walks around staring malevolently, he can’t invest any sense of interest in the character. That isn’t his fault: it’s just a severely underwritten and fundamentally uninteresting role, and the result is that the film struggles to create a compelling arc until the final third, when Thor and Loki must work alongside one another towards a mutual goal. The film’s most satisfying relationship is between these two, and the whole thing flickers into life whenever Hemsworth and Hiddleston get to riff off of each other. Natalie Portman is fine as Thor’s love interest Jane, but the two share even less screen time than Thor and Loki, which does rather dilute our hero’s supposed undying passion for her.
Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard return for, respectively, slightly beefed up and slightly reduced roles, and both it has to be said are effective, even if the latter’s character only really exists in the film to provide a contrived and frankly bonkers way out of the final conflict. Idris Elba returns as Heimdall, meanwhile, and gets a little bit more to do this time that stand around in a silly hat staring into space.
Alan Taylor (best known for his TV work, which includes Game of Thrones) brings disappointingly little to the table when it comes to articulating the series’ mythology, and simply can’t generate enough interest out of the middling script to really elevate this to the heights of Marvel’s better efforts. It’s a little surprising (even though he did do a stint on Sex and the City) that Taylor handles the comedy elements the best, but that success functions as both the film’s saving grace and a major weakness. The gags stand out as the most memorable moments in the film (in particular one hilarious cameo), but also dilute any real sense of tension or emotional engagement.
But the film’s most prominent flaw is its poorly thought out and uninteresting mythology, which creates villains so bland they fail to make any lasting impression, despite being visually well re alised. Thankfully, Taylor and his cast create enough laughs and just enough thrilling set pieces to save the project from being crushed under the weight of its own dreary backstory.