Movie Review: Thor – The Dark World
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a media juggernaut. Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, Thor and new series Agents of Shield are demonstrating how to successfully build a monster that transcends the boundaries of traditional franchising. Thor: The Dark World is the latest in this ongoing series, and spares no effort in telling both a bold and engaging story and supporting the wider universe in which it exists.
It’s almost impossible to review an MCU film without referencing it in the wider context, and to do so does a disservice to what Marvel are trying to achieve, but to start with let me just talk about the movie Thor: The Dark World as an entity alone. Opening with a monologue by Hopkins’ Odin, we’re given a brief history of Asgardian lore and an introduction to the films villain and macguffin of choice, the Aether. It’s a well constructed draw, allowing the audience to jump on in on the ground floor. We know what the characters go into this knowing, and it successfully sets up the plot to come.
I’ll keep the spoilers as out of it as I can, but the story Thor: The Dark World tells is a well crafted narrative spanning multiple worlds and bringing the wider galaxy into focus. It gives us glimpses of other realms within the grasp of Yggdrasil, The World Tree of Norse mythology and lets us get a handle on how vast the Marvel universe is, without overburdening the audience. Once again using Jane Foster as the audience proxy, we’re drawn into an ancient war against, well, everything. The play between Jane, Darcy and new character Ian (the intern) is comforting and brilliant and harkens back to the first Thor and the return of Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig is truly welcome. Once Thor himself arrives on Earth, of course everything starts hitting the fan but thankfully the story never feels derivative.
Characters only in the background in the first movie get a lot more screen time; Idris Elba’s Heimdall, Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, Rene Russo as Frigga. It allows the cast to form more of an ensemble than before. Eccleston’s Malekith is venomous in his performance, alongside his terrifyingly creepy Dark Elves with their creepy masked faces. So creepy.
While the enemy of the moment is truly alien, it’s neither Thor protecting us from something that doesn’t really concern him nor him fixing a screwup of his own. As such his relationship with Jane Foster is allowed to feel organic and develop naturally. Visiting Asgard for the first time gives a few great “meet the parents” moments too.
Where Thor: The Dark World truly shines though is the interplay between Thor and his brother, imprisoned war criminal Loki. The two, forced together by a common goal, is perfection. They are brothers, banter and all. The writing is snappy, both characters are portrayed to absolute brilliance and there is so much depth to the pair that you really get the feeling they are brothers. In fact it’s not just these two characters who really get great dialogue; everyone does. It’s probably the best written MCU movie to date.
Now for the kicker. Thor: The Dark World fits, seamlessly, into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking cues from the events of The Avengers, the cast of this film are dealing with the baggage of the Chitauri attack on New York in much the same way Tony Stark was in Iron Man 3. It gives such a weight to those events, and brings everything together in a way that is truly mind boggling. Marvel are playing what has to be the longest game in cinema history, with enemies like Thanos cropping up but still relegated to the background as the heroes struggle against their own villains and their own dilemmas. It’s a gambit, one that could have gone terribly (for example DC who cannot seem to get anything off the ground right now) but has instead paid off in the most wonderful way.
The writing is great. The cast are great. The cinematography and direction are great. The visual effects are great (and for you fellow Aussies out there, done locally in Melbourne). The banter is great. Skarsgård and Hiddleston are beyond great. Eccleston is underused but still great. The movie, on the whole, great. Alan Taylor brings his A game to this, after working on such superb television series as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Deadwood, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.