Mjolnir! Gesundheit! Ahem…
When Kenneth Branagh announced that he wasn’t coming back to helm a sequel to 2011’s charming superhero romp, “Thor“, I was more than a little concerned. Much as Jon Favreau nailed the tone and character of “Iron Man“, Marvel’s signature superhero series, Branagh’s experience with actors and willingness to dutch every angle that he could made the New Mexican adventures of Odin’s favourite son a real treat. Was it really a good idea to take off and pass on the second movie to a fresh helmer? One who would doubtless wish to stamp their own authority on the piece?
Jump forward two years and one triumphant “Avengers” movie later, and we’ve got “Thor: The Dark World” to contend with. As with many a comic book sequel, it goes to rather dark places in a pursuit of heightened drama and higher stakes, a decision which might suggest a desire to be taken seriously which is rather at odds with the humour and – whisper it quietly – romance of the first movie.
Happily, though, this film doesn’t forget that you can blend mystery with wit, can balance spectacle with human drama and never forgets that for all the capital-city destroying spectacle that a render farm can weave, there’s nothing more interesting than two fine actors facing off against one another.
“The Dark World” sees Thor leading Asgard’s finest warriors, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, against a host of newly aggressive warriors across the Nine Realms. That military campaign doesn’t leave much time for Thor to go back and check up on Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is none too pleased to have seen her Norse God visit New York to repel alien invasion and not even have the courtesy to send her a text.
Complicating matters are a new Big Bad, in the form of Chris Eccleston‘s Malekith, a dark elf warrior king/terrorist who is intent on wiping Asgard’s authority from the galactic map, not to mention the ongoing familial strife wrought by Thor’s adoptive brother Loki, now in lock-down after his attempt to enslave Earth.
It’s a lot to be going on with and it’s to the credit of director Alan Taylor and credited writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that despite a wealth of events, locations and characters that the story is as engaging as it was in the initial movie – albeit on a far larger scale. If you were a little nonplussed by the galaxy-hopping nature of the first film, make sure that you buckle up your cinema seat for this sequel, which jaunts around the Nine Realms and even finds time to set up next summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” with nary room to breathe.
The acting is, as mentioned before, assured – Chris Hemsworth is a charming prince of Asgard, albeit one whose accent sometimes wanders around the globe as much as his character does whereas Kat Dennings‘ increased presence and nascent TV stardom allows her perma-bemused bestie Darcy to do much of the comedic heavy lifting. Anthony Hopkins classes up the joint as Odin and Tumblr fangirl favourite Tom Hiddleston justifies the internet’s gif-tastic fervour by giving what could be a stock character layers and wounded humanity even as he does some quite terrible things.
TLDR conclusion? “The Dark World” is a great second instalment in the “Thor” series – although subsequent viewings will hopefully help to decide whether this is better than Kenneth Branagh’s film (for me, the arguable high point of Marvel’s Phase One of movies).