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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

It's already out in the UK and is being released to most countries this Friday so, for a change, I thought I would share my thoughts on a movie before it is actually released. As is usually the case, I will be avoiding spoilers, but if you want to be extra prudent about this highly awaited film, lets just say that, despite it's fairly terrible plot, Thor 2 is seven shades of awesome! Check out the film or read on to find out how...

Trying to sum up the plot of Thor 2 is something of a thankless task, but I am going to try anyway. First we have Thor himself who is all set to be the next king of Asgard who spends his days fighting the good fight across the nine realms, while pining for his earth-bound lady love, Jane Foster. The latter, of course, is doing some good old pining in return, while trying to figure out what a weird spacial anomaly is doing in the middle of London (what, is this Star Trek: The Next Generation or something?), before being sucked off to the eponymous Dark World (I think) and getting infected with a really old and really powerful weapon that for some reason has taken on the form of black-red goo (what, is this the X-Files or something?). At the same time, Loki is serving a life sentence in an Asgardian prison for his bad behaviour in The Avengers and a brand new but very old threat has come to plunge the universe back into darkness... for some reason or another. Who knows? Who cares?

It's convoluted and, in the case of the baddie and his nefarious scheme, bland and nonsensical respectively. Here's the thing though: the film's frankly wretched plot barely takes away from the film at all. The unmemorable villain is a bit of a problem, to be sure, but he and his evil doings seem to have been inserted into the film as an afterthought, as little more than something on which to hang all the great gags, characters and imaginative action scenes. And ya know what, this seemingly stupid idea actually works perfectly. Thor: The Dark World is simply the most fun I had at the cinema since the seemingly daft but enormously, breathlessly entertaining (and inaptly titled) Star Trek Into Darkness.

It is, in many respects, effectively the polar opposite of Man of Steel. While Man of Steel obviously had a great story at its centre - you would have to try pretty hard to screw up the origin of Superman - it was utterly humourless and dour with massive, but massively boring, action/fight scenes and really badly drawn characters. Thor 2, on the other hand, has an utterly bogus story at its centre, but it is constantly laugh out loud funny and endlessly joyous (and occasionally kinda moving too) with tremendously entertaining, dimension-hopping action scenes and a cast of brilliantly memorable characters. Well, except the baddie, Malakith, but in a film with Tom Hiddleston's sublimely devious Loki, it would be hard for even a Lex Luthor to stand out. Though yes, it is a tremendous waste of Christopher Eccleston's considerable talents.
There is a definite sense of epicness to the film, to be sure, but just to be clear, Thor 2 is wildly misrepresented by its trailer. Yes, it's bombastic and exciting but at its heart, this is actually a very small film about relationships. Relationships between brothers, between lovers, between parents and children, between adopted children and their families, between rulers and their kingdoms and between friends and colleagues. It just happens that these relationships include Norse gods, mad scientists, aliens, tricksters, superheroes and Natalie Portman. Also, many of these relationships are expressed through epic battles and the crazy, crazy manipulation of convenient scifi mcguffins.

And for all that it's an epic fantasy and a superhero movie and a relationship movie, it is also very much a comedy. Thor: The Dark World might suggest a lot of, well, darkness but it's really a laugh-out-loud hilarious romp that is not afraid to make beautiful, beautiful use of plucky sidekicks and, oh yes, running gags and pratfalls. Many have complained about the film's "over reliance" on comedy but as far as I'm concerned, it's just making up for the grayness of its competitor's recent attempt at their greatest character.

It's all I can do not to get into specific spoilers but lets just say that, though they clearly didn't spend very long on the plot, both director Alan Taylor (a veteran TV director who hasn't lost a step in taking over from Kenneth Branagh) and screenwriters Christopher Yost (an experienced comic book writer and head writer of the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, clearly spent a lot of time coming up with set pieces that are not your usual boring smash 'em ups and with characters and dialogue that are far more irreverant and fun than is typical for its genre.

Meanwhile, virtually everyone in front of the camera from the original film are back and though Kat Dennings and Tom Hiddleston constantly threaten to steal the show, no one in the a-level cast puts a foot wrong. Chris Hemsworth especially has never been better as the film's rakishly charming, funny and commanding hero.        

Once again, this being a Marvel film, it is essential to stick around for at least the mid-credits scene that sets up one of Marvel's upcoming releases but the final scene is fun too in a totally random, disposable kind of way. Even without the (to mix a metaphor) tasty post-credits sting, Thor: The Dark World is a must-see for comic book movie/ superhero fans and, along with being one of the year's few major blockbusters that is really worth seeing, it nudges out Iron Man 3 as the best superhero movie of the year. Just be willing to overlook it's crappy plot problems is all.

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