A Marvel-ous second outing

Simon Thomson
Cert 12a | Four stars

ONCE every five thousand years the nine realms align, and the dark elves use the opportunity to plunge the universe into darkness. To do this, they need the Aether, an ancient force of evil which – for inexplicable plot reasons – has possessed the body of Thor’s human girlfriend.

Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 film Thor was the stagiest, least impressive installment of Marvel Studios’ “Phase One”. Thor: The Dark World, is more expansive, giving the world(s) greater depth, and presenting a spectacle worthy of the epic source material. It’s not important, or meaningful, and you’re not going to learn anything, but it looks fantastic and it’s barrels of laughs.

Anthony Hopkins has a larger role as an increasingly cranky Odin, king of the gods, and there are good comic turns from Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, and The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd. But as was the case in Thor and The Avengers, it is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki who has the best of it. Capricious Loki, by turns witty and vicious was always going to be the most interesting person in the room. By comparison Malekith, leader of the dark elves, played by former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, is rather one dimensional as a more conventionally evil villain. Still, Chris Hemsworth is doing a good job developing Thor into more than an archetypal hero, typically playing the straight-man to the rest of the ensemble, but with charm, humility, and a few jokes of his own. Natalie Portman has been a little short-changed by a script that initially requires her to do little more than swoon, but she finds agency later in the piece. The film generally improves as things progress. It takes a while to get all the plates spinning, but once they are it’s tremendous fun. The new director, Alan Taylor, previously worked on the gritty fantasy Game of Thrones, and the skills he developed there are on display as he convincingly weaves together disparate technologies – swords and lasers – with disparate genres – romantic comedy and scifi adventure.

The film’s climax will be a special treat for Londoners, as the capital is laid to waste. The Old Royal Naval College bears the brunt, but in an era when all London-based films must include an appearance from the Gherkin, Thor: The Dark World does it best.

Marvel has made a habit of including bonus scenes after the credits, but this time there are two, so completists should sit it out to the very end.