Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Following on from Thor and The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World is the latest in Marvel's project to map its universe into film. Like the first Thunder God flick, it's a sword and ray-gun epic, using Clarke's third law to explain the Norse gods' powers and accoutrements as advanced technology (the rainbow bridge, Bifrost, is the entrance to a suite of wormholes, there are force fields, glancing references to nanotechnology and so on); unlike its predecessor, it's a ponderous epic, attempting to mesh the ongoing romance between scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with a by-the-numbers struggle against a villain who threatens to end the universe by unleashing a powerful amorphous substance, red matter - sorry, aether - when the nine worlds align.

I liked the original Thor comics when I was a teenager; and I liked the first film, too, for its marvellous depiction of Asgard, Tom Hiddleston's mercurial Loki, and the vigour and charm of Hemsworth's Thor, a superhero who actually had fun with his powers and needed only to learn a little humility to come into his own. The sequel looks just as lovely, but is far more hectic, a space-opera version of Lord of the Rings coloured by Norse mythology.  Tom Hiddleston and Rene Russo (reprising her role as Odin's wife, Freya) give standout performances, but Hemsworth's Thor is dialed-down to gloomy king-in-waiting, for most of the film Portman's Foster is little more than a plot coupon, and Chris Eccelston's dark elf is a one-dimensional all-evil-all-of-the-time villain.  As if to make up for the thinness of the story, it's crammed with action and eye-kicks - notably a space ship smashing its way into the Hall of Asgard.  There's some nice business during a breakout from Asgard, and it does lighten up a little when Thor gets back to Earth (there are a couple of good jokes, and one that might have worked if the writers had bothered to look at a Tube map), but otherwise it rarely rises above your basic by-the-numbers universe-in-peril schtick.  Stick with the credits crawl: there's a teaser for the next in the sequence, and right at the end, after all the pixel wranglers and digital wizards, as if no room could be found for it amongst the thud and blunder, there's a small, quiet, human moment.  Fun to watch as long as you suspend all judgement, but in the end another triumph of CGI spectacle over actual story.


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