Thor – The Dark World

US (2013) Dir. Alan Taylor

Many thousands of years ago a terrible weapon called the Aether was sealed away in a stone column when the Dark Elves were defeated in battle, their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his remaining soldiers escaping by sealing themselves in suspended animation. In current times a rare phenomenon called the Convergence where the Nine Realms all meet up is due to take place, the result being the appearance of portals in the various linked worlds. In London astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is alerted to a portal that has appeared there but during her investigation she is sucked into it, becoming infected by the Aether.

This occurrence comes to the attention of the people of Asgard, being of particular interest to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who pays Jane a visit on Earth, who returns after a five hour absence. Their reunion is marred when Jane begins to display strange powers unusual for a human, forcing Thor to take her back to Asgard. However Jane’s presence with the Aether awakens the Dark Elves from their self imposed stasis, seeking the return of their weapon in order to finish what they started centuries ago.

I must confess to not being totally enamoured by the first Thor film (or indeed any recent Marvel offering, save for Avengers Assemble which was dumb fun) so it was with some trepidation that I approached this inevitable sequel, which had garnered some very positive reviews, most proclaiming it superior to its predecessor. With admittedly low expectations this sounded like feint praise but one can’t help but wonder – nay hope – that these plaudits were justified. It’s happened before so surely it has to happen again, right?

The above summary barely touches the plot which escalates into a literal multi-dimensional battle to save the world – or in this case two worlds as it seem both Earth and Asgard are simultaneously under threat. A prologue at the start of the film shows the Dark Elves in battle with Bor, the father of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) explaining the existence of the Aether which wasn’t mentioned at all in the first film.

It seems the Elves were hoping to destroy the universe with the Aether for reasons never explained other than…well, I suppose they’re angry at being called elves while all standing over six foot tall. Their revival comes with the arrival of the Jane in Asgard, who was somehow infected when she was dragged into the alternate dimension which inexplicably released the Aether from its stone prison.

Thor plans to take Jane away from Asgard luring Malekith and his soldiers with him then killing Malekith to end the whole drama. Odin doesn’t agree so Thor decides to disobey his father and plots a surreptitious (read: blatant) way to do it anyway and this requires the help from an unusual source.

Locked away for his treacherous acts in both the first film and Avengers Assemble, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has a secret pathway which allows him to traverse the universe which Thor needs the use of to execute his plan, so he has to break his loathed brother out of his padded cell. What could possibly go wrong?

So with everything descending into chaos, it is no surprise that the plot feels a little bogged down with too many elements thrown into the mix – such as the history with the Dark Elves and their vengeance, the effects of the Convergence and Jane’s body hosting the Aether. And because the portal where the Aether was released was on Earth our fair planet is also under attack because it wouldn’t be a superhero film if the Earth wasn’t on the verge of destruction.

At least this time London is the target making a refreshing change from Los Angeles or New York although this also means that EVERYONE who is supposed to be English speaks with that plummy posh accent the Americans think we all speak with. The only exception is Chris O’Dowd who takes a break from playing awkward but sarcastic Irishmen to make a small cameo as an awkward but sarcastic Irishman who is on a date with Jane.  

Chris Hemsworth, it has to be said, is a good Thor and seems to “get it” as far as his character goes while Natalie Portman still feels out of place and too much of a nominal “big name” to help sell the film. Equally misused is Swedish powerhouse Stellan Skarsgård as mad Doctor Erik although his character is infinitely tolerable that the pointless mouth on legs that is Darcy played by Kat Dennings. But, despite having a comparatively small role it is Tom Hiddleston who, much like in the previous films, is the main reason to watch absolutely outclassing everyone as the dastardly Loki.

With the unusual choice of director of the first film Kenneth Branagh replaced in the hot seat by Alan Taylor, whose credentials are mostly in TV (and some big hits too boot such as Game Of Thrones, Sopranos and Mad Men), perhaps there was a chance that the vision from a different pair of eyes would benefit this sequel.

The characters had already been established and the basic ideologies of the Thor universe made clear in the first film this should be an easier film to get into, but for some reason I once again found myself left with a feeling of apathy and ambivalence towards it; I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. The effects are spectacular and there are some fun fights but we are in an age where they are ten a penny.

Is Thor: The Dark World better than the first film? Yes. Is it a superhero blockbuster for the ages? Sadly, in this writer’s opinion, no. An over the top distraction at best.