‘Thor: The Dark World’ review

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The plot picks up some time after Avengers Assemble: Loki is in prison on Asgard, Thor and his band of merry men are keeping the peace across the nine realms, and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is continuing her research, with the aim of one day finding a way to reunite with her Asgardian prince. However, when Jane’s research inadvertently leads her through a portal to another realm, she uncovers a mythical force known as Aether, and paves the way for the return of an ancient Asgardian enemy – Malekith, of the Dark Elves.

There’s no question that the glut of superhero movies has made some aspects of Thor: The Dark World feel over-familiar, but director Alan Taylor’s film is able to ride through on an abundance of good humour and spirit. It’s not as snappy, witty or quick-fire as, say, Iron Man 3, but The Dark World has more of a madcap, surreal nature to it that suits its somewhat bonkers premise.

Taylor has transitioned from the world of television (where he most recently worked on Game of Thrones) with aplomb and confidence. In particular, the climactic battle is a particularly audacious one to attempt, given its reliance on transportational portals. (The Dark World’s reliance on these portals has essentially beaten any potential Portal video-game movie to the punch).

Chris Hemsworth continues to embody the god of thunder well enough, but Tom Hiddlestone once again steals the show as the mischievous Loki. Hiddlestone is clearly having a ball; he might be a “baddie”, but most audiences have taken him to heart just as much as the titular hero.

Kat Dennings has a beefed up role as Jane’s assistant/friend Darcy, once again serving as proxy for the audience by quipping and reacting to the madness unfolding around her, while Stellan Skarsgard is reduced to comic-relief in a manner that will ensure you never see him quite the same way again…

Unfortunately, Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston (unrecognisable under the make-up) is lost in the mix as Malekith. It’s a good idea to give the movie a genuine nemesis (the first instalment had Loki, but most of his malfeasance was held back until Avengers Assemble), but he lacks impact. The dark-elves, and the nature of the Aether, are both vague and abstract; their back-story feels like something more out of World of Warcraft than Marvel.

The fantasy/sci-fi nature of the Thor franchise sets it apart from the rest of the Marvel universe, and it has a very distinct visual aesthetic. But while it spans worlds and battles for the universe, Thor remains at heart a family drama. The relationship between Thor and Loki, and in turn their relationship with father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, regal as ever) is what forms the core of this story.

Portals across dimensions, magic hammers and dark elves aren’t terribly relatable, but a man struggling to live up to his father’s expectations; an adopted child trying to find his place in the world; a girl meeting her beau’s parents… these are things the audience can latch on to.

The film is set – as apparently all Hollywood fare must be these days – in London, which allows for some fine use of the capital’s many varied locations. It also allows for some local talent to cameo (Chris O’Dowd!), which only adds to the fun.

And that’s what Thor: The Dark World is; it’s fun. Its subtitle might threaten darkness, but the lively cast and the twist of good humour running through it light up the screen. (Oh, and when the screen does go dark, stick around – there’s not one, but TWO tag scenes in the end credits.)

Released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 30 October 2013.

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