When the MCU is on a hot streak it’s nearly untouchable, be it the innovation of the original Iron Man to the devastating Infinity War to the dizzying pay off of Endgame; Marvel tends to bring the fun, excitement and drama to a level of consistency generally unheard of for a series that’s run for so damn long – however, in the rare occasion the tried and true formula fails, you get Thor: The Dark World.
Mired by production problems from the start with Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins jumping ship early in proceedings and her replacement, Game Of Thrones’ Alan Taylor having disagreements with the studio about everything from running time to the score, some might say it’s a gift from Odin that the film is a presentable as it is; but some might also damn it as Marvel’s weakest entry to date.
They’d both be right.
After the events of the first Thor (not to mention The Avengers), everybody’s favourite Odinson has been bouncing around the Nine Realms trying to bring peace after marauders started plundering the other kingdoms after Asgard was cut off after the destruction of the Bifrost. When he’s done reducing huge stone giants to cut price crazy paving and twating various pillagers with his crazy hammer, all Thor wants to do is travel back to Midgard and rekindle his fledgling romance with the earthbound scientist Jane Foster but it seems like an Asgardian God’s job is never done as the Dark Elves, an ancient enemy that look remarkably fresh-faced for a species that predates light, rises again looking to remake the universe in their image. As luck would have it, the instrument of their destruction, a cranky red liquid dubbed The Aether, has already been stumbled upon by the aforementioned Ms. Foster who has absorbed the malevolent goop into her body. Returning to earth to sweep her off her feet and into an Asgardian hospital bed, Thor and his people have to fend off a full scale invasion from Malekith and his Elf brethren who need the Aether for their nefarious endgame and so Thor, in a last ditch attempt to save everything, commits treason to bust his treacherous brother Loki out of the Norse pokey to help him transport Jane away to draw Malekith to his homeworld, the titular Dark World. With a genocidal nutcase in front of him and a duplicitous step brother by his side, can the mighty Thor possibly defy fate and his own father to keep the lights on for the entire universe?
While I personally feel that Thor’s first solo sequel manages to be the MCU’s lowest ebb to date, that’s not to say that T:TDW is an unwatchable mess, quite the opposite, it’s bizarrely a VERY watchable mess (Marvel’s greatest talent is everything they make is at very least effortlessly likeable) but it also leans heavily into all of the Studio’s established faults too.
For example, at this point of their career (B.T. Before Thanos) Marvel decidedly a “weak villain” problem where all their antagonists (except Loki) were usually single serving, and basic and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith has a good crack at being the most bland of the lot. He’s not particularly threatening either, at one point getting bested by Renee Russo’s motherly Friga in one on one combat in a scene that, instead of making her character stronger, only serves to make the primary antagonist seem somewhat of a pushover – a frustrating open goal considering that his comic book counterpart is essentially the Joker with the powers of Doctor Strange. Quick hint: you want a villain to be a worthy adversary for your godly protagonist, maybe don’t have them getting their butt royally handed to them by the hero’s mum!
Elsewhere, Thor’s earth bound supporting cast truly have overstayed their welcome, their comedy scenes now being annoying skits you have to forcibly wade through in order to get to the good stuff. A capable and endearing cast try their best but and score the occasional laugh out loud moment (Stellan Skarsgärd mostly, putting in some serious overtime to wring out some chuckles) but mostly it’s all too played out and Natalie Portman’s sweet damsel in distress act is noticably out of gas.
Yet despite all of the above, one positive thing Thor: The Dark World has in it’s corner is that it is by far the most interesting episode of the Shakespearean Thor & Loki show Marvel has ever done. During their rocky relationship from brothers to enemies and back again, it’s this point in their blustery back and forth that draws the most interest. Neither the full blown Avengers villain of his last appearance or the untrustworthy sidekick in Thor: Ragnarok, Loki’s guilt and rage is exploding in all directions (especially inward) and makes his uneasy alliance with his brother against the Dark Elves spectacularly interesting. An explosive argument on their journey to the titular Dark World promotes a heated discussion that ranks of one of the best scenes that’s ever included the squabbling Asgardian siblings.
Hemsworth leads an incredible charm offensive once again in the title role and it’s the best Thor has ever looked in his movie career but you can tell the rot is starting to set in as Marvel still seems uncertain what tone to ultimately settle on with perhaps it’s most difficult character to translate (thank God then for Taika Watiti). Hiddleston’s Loki is also still as effective as he ever was and extra points go to a latex encrusted Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc from Suicide Squad) for a great creature performance as super charged mega-elf, Kurse but you get the distinct impression everyone else (I’m looking at YOU Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman) is phoning it in at such a level you have to marvel at how strong the on set Wifi must have been.
Extra points have to be given to the final battle by having the usual stern-faced, final act, conflagration played somewhat for laughs which makes the usual, end of the world shenanigans, oddly quite upbeat as the brawling Thor and Malekith ricochet between realities like multidimensional pinballs, giving proceedings a cheerfully farcical tone.
Perky action and strong performances from the two best characters make Thor: The Dark World an easier meal to digest but a threat-free villain and run of the mill stakes makes you worry that this particular corner of the Marvel universe is beating a dead Norse…