Before the universe there was only darkness, and from that darkness came the dark elves. Millennia ago the dark elf king, Malekith, pledged to bring darkness back to the universe using the destructive force known as The Ether but was thwarted by Odin’s father, Bor, banishing The Ether to places unknown. Now, Jane Foster, in her dimensional investigations, happens upon the location of The Ether, which brings Malekith and his armies out of hiding, hell bent on bringing destruction to the Nine Realms… Only the gods of Asgard stand in their way.
On its release I found Thor to be an incredibly fun if slightly flawed movie, but as time has passed and with numerous re-watches it now ranks amongst one of my favourite of Marvel’s cinematic outings. To start with it was kind of hard to understand why, after all, the action wasn’t THAT great, the FX weren’t as seamless as they might be and despite the vastness of Asgard, it all felt rather small…
It later struck me that the elements that Thor shared with the first Iron Man film is what made it enjoyable beyond the initial spectacle, time and again, which is to say, likable characters, plenty of funny and touching moments and it’s basic story of lessons learnt and humanity found, with a twist of Shakespearian tragedy thrown in for good measure.
With Thor: The Dark World it is evident from the first act that we are dealing with a totally different animal, this is no longer a small tale of finding one’s self, this is an all out fantasy epic, which may be music to many ears, but it has to be said, it DOES miss that basic human element.
Truly this is like a tale from old myth, the bad guy is SO bad that he wishes for nothing less than total universal annihilation. It’s a two dimensional motivation and with it Malekith is a two dimensional character, which is probably the only other down side of the film.
Don’t take a ‘lack of human element’ to be the same as a lack character though, as all the players from the first film are present and correct, and as delightful as can be. Thor himself has grown into a much more subtle and nuanced character, while Loki grows ever more complicated and erratic. With the exception of Anthony Hopkins, who hams it up perhaps a degree too much, everyone performs admirably, with a special hat tip going to Kat Dennings who brings much needed levity at every available opportunity.
The humour is actually quite an odd thing in The Dark World, there’s no shortage of genuinely funny moments, but oddly many of them arrive in the third act, just prior to and even during the climactic battle sequence. This may be intentional and aimed to be contrary to most blockbusters, format wise, but who can tell?
Where The Dark World is superior to Thor is in its aesthetic, its digital FX and its action. Asgard has lost that slick sheen of perfectly formed metal and gained a rough edge of fatigued materials, but not in a way that overwrites the design of the first film, it’s just a step or two removed but much more captures that ‘fantasy’ feel. This look has been extended to the other elements of the film, including wardrobe, armour and even hairstyles. The aesthetic works especially well when juxtaposed with higher tech; stone castles with force blasters on the turrets, air and spaceships resembling Viking longboats, and when put next to the pure sci-fi tech of the dark elf ships, the effects are quite breathtaking and more than a little original.
The visual FX are just entirely more seamless than they were on Thor, bringing an element of photo realism where they are totally required to sell the scenarios, such as the Earth based section of the elf invasion. The action is cleaner, better paced and there is much more of it.
While the core concept of Thor: The Dark World might be a little slight and lacking the human touch of the first instalment, it more than makes up for it in grandiose fantasy based action and beautiful visuals, so, one suspects, it will be down to which you put more stock in to which film you most prefer, but either way, it’s most certainly worth a look.
B- grade – for storytelling
B grade – for action
A- grade – for visuals
B+ grade – for acting
Overall grade – B+
Top Tip: Stay until the very end of the credits as there are TWO post-film sequences.