Greenwich Mean Time
The fun but thin Marvel Cinematic Universe expands a little in this highly enjoyable second solo outing for the God of Thunder. This time the titular, hammer swinging beefcake, whose musculature is inversely proportional to the depth of his personality, must save the universe from a few ancient plot devices: a dormant enemy, an evil older than Stan Lee, a super weapon guaranteed to plunge the universe into eternal darkness. Thor, like the Labour government of the 1970s, is struggling to keep the lights on. No wonder the Tories prefer Tony Stark.
Kenneth Branagh’s original Thor movie sagged badly in the middle, at the point where the Nordic realm made way for fish out of water comedy in small town America and otherworldly threat played second fiddle to the blond leviathan’s bloodless romance with Natalie Portman’s underwritten love interest. The Dark World’s canny enough to avoid the same mistakes. This is a Thor adventure of greater ambition and scale, set primarily in the embattled mock Viking world of Asgard and its neighbouring territories, tailor made for Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor. We’re still lumbered with the stillborn relationship from part one, Marvel’s demographilser decreeing it must be so, but credit to the writers, they found a way to make Portman’s pretty puss less peripheral, contriving to merge her with the villain’s prize, birthing a human maguffin that can plausibly, if lethargically, remain front and centre for much of the running time.
If Taylor’s film is mechanically plotted it’s because it has its sights set on higher things. Thor’s second stint signals the transition from the Earth bound histrionics of Marvel’s Phase 1 to the extra terrestrial ambitions of Phase 2. Ahead of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy we’re privy to the knowledge that every star in the sky’s a new movie in the making: sufficient material, one imagines, to keep Marvel’s Kevin Feige and his heirs in business for decades to come.
Celestial alignments and wormhole-like portals facilitate grand setpieces that allow the action to seamlessly transfer from this critic’s hometown of Greenwich to the eponymous Dark World and back again, but grand though this is and well-realised using finely crafted digital magic, Thor’s world remains free of grit and nuance. The overlords that sit in the throne room at Marvel Studios won’t permit the movie to be solemn for more than a minute at a time. It flits between scenes of high drama and breezy jocularity without changing tempo. This is a movie pitched at a level never likely to trouble, offend or stir the emotions. You’re always having a good time watching Taylor’s flick but you’d give your kingdom for a moment of genuine feeling. Even the score’s a tad vanilla. If it’s true that movies teach you how to watch them, this one’s clear from the outset: enjoy but don’t get too involved.
With the focus on expanding the franchise, the loser is characterisation. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman remain likeable, though neither has a part worth a damn, while Christopher Eccleston, as an evil elf with megalomaniacal ambitions, is wasted in a role that could and should have made far better use of his malevolent potential. Only Tom Hiddleston, as the villainous Loki, threatens to lodge in the memory and even here one wishes the screenwriters had a crafted a few Whedon-esque zingers worthy of his character’s self-regard. Not a total triumph then, but Thor: The Dark World ensures that Marvel movies remain reliable entertainments for those that like their superhero action colourful and undemanding.