Saturday, 2 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Eons ago, Bor, father of Odin, defeated the Dark Elves led by Malekith and hid their weapon for plunging the universe into darkness, the Aether, leaving Malekith and the Dark Elves to enter suspended animation until the Aether is found again. Meanwhile, in the present day, Thor is almost at the end of a two year war to bring peace across the realm while his brother Loki languishes in prison, and Jane Foster is still on Earth, now living in London. However, while investigating an anomaly, she is pulled into a portal to another realm where she discovers the hidden Aether, which takes residence inside Jane Foster. When Thor finds her, he realises she is ill and brings her back to Asgard but it's too late, the damage has been done and Malekith has been reanimated and is coming back for the Aether. Thor needs a plan to stop him, but that involves having to trust the one man he can't trust: Loki...

Can you believe it's only been two and a half years since Thor came out? It really seems like the kind of film that's been around for longer than that, especially since The Avengers was only a year and a half ago. Nonetheless, we're now into Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, and here's film number two after Iron Man 3. I'll be honest, the trailer made the film look as epic as any other Marvel offering, but I came into Thor: The Dark World with tempered expectations. Where do they go from what we've already seen? How do they make any epic series of films even more so? For the first time in a long time, I came into a film ready to be disappointed and looking for its faults. I liked the first one, and I'm a big fan of what Marvel have been doing and comic book films in general. Well... long story short, I was wrong. This was fantastic. Let me explain why.

For the first time in a long time, Marvel hasn't tried to outdo the previous film in terms of scale. Don't get me wrong, there's still multiple big battle scenes and the enemy our hero has to vanquish is great, but they haven't tried to "Man of Steel" things by destroying absolutely everything in order to better the amount of damage and to make the final boss fight more epic than the one in the last superhero film. What we see in TTDW doesn't try to outdo its predecessors, it builds upon them to tell a surprisingly compelling story. What we get is a far more compelling drama than we've seen before from Marvel where we get to see more of the characters than ever before. Thor 2 is unlike Thor more than any other Marvel sequel is unlike its predecessor. The only film that comes close to being like Thor 2 is Iron Man 3; they deal with similar themes and the characters are given more time to develop and allow more of their traits and personalities to emerge. I like where Phase Two is heading.

All of this is down to a script that relies extremely heavily on its main cast of actors pulling off fantastic performances, but not its leading stars funnily enough. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are not anything special in his film, they do their thing and get the job done. Instead, it's Tom Hiddleston's Loki who steals the show AGAIN. The performance is great and the character is developed so well in this film, it's hard to see them not bringing back the character at least one more time. Anthony Hopkins is given more screen time as Odin, and plays an ailing and embittered king really well. Plus, Christopher Eccleston is fantastic as Malekith considering he doesn't speak English for half the film. He's menacing, and presents a true threat to Thor which is what a story like this needed.

What I like about this film, is that as dark as it gets at times, there hasn't been a funnier MCU film to date, and that includes all films featuring Iron Man. The character of Darcy, Jane's assistant, was the comic relief in the first Thor and she's given the chance to step up that role where she has some of the best lines in the film. Dr Erik Selvig makes a welcome reappearance, but they've shifted his character That, and the development of another side of Loki's character means he's able to more playful and funny in this film. There's some great writing at work here too, allowing for a random, hilarious, un-natural yet un-forced Captain America cameo in the midst of a serious piece of drama. The film is, of course, wonderfully shot and looks amazing, and never goes too over the top with the effects given this is a film about a man with a magic hammer. A majority of the action that occurs in London is non-CG, which is nice, and its always nice to see a film like this take place somewhere other than America, just another thing that sets this film apart from its predecessors.

Overall, I was impressed with this film. I didn't think I'd like it, I thought Marvel had reached the end of the road in terms of innovation, perhaps naively so. Marvel have a multi-arc, multi-year, multi-film plan for their MCU, and this is only the beginning of Phase Two while they're already planning for the end of Phase Three. As far as I'm concerned, this is the first film that makes me think there is life for Marvel after The Avengers; Iron Man 3 dealt with a character shift but the action remained much the same, whereas Thor represents the beginning of a complete shift of focus from non-stop action onto character development and drama. I think there's still some ways to go with Phase Two before we reach The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I think this film represented the first of three films to initiate the change of direction for the MCU. The next two? Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Only time will tell if these are as successful as Thor: The Dark World, but if the post-credits sequence is anything to go by...

Rating: ****1/2