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Mighty Marvellous Film Review: Thor The Dark World (3D)

November 8, 2013Ben MK

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It's Hammer time

Two down, three to go. Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially kicked off mere months ago with Iron Man 3, and now here we are again. This time, it's Earth's Mightiest Avenger that's making his thunderous return to cinema screens. With the Battle of New York behind him, does Thor still feel its after effects as Tony Stark did, or is it back to business as usual -- kicking ass and taking names -- defending the Nine Realms?

Thor: The Dark World picks up the saga of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) where The Avengers left off, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) brought before Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to account for his actions and then imprisoned for this crimes. With the Tesseract now safely on Asgard as well, it seems as though there might finally be some semblance of peace in the Nine Realms. But of course we know that isn't very likely, for there is a new threat rising -- in the form of an ancient evil known as the Dark Elves. As Odin would tell it, before the existence of everything there was darkness, and in that darkness the Dark Elves ruled absolutely. Now, with the Convergence of the Nine Realms approaching (think planetary alignment), their leader Malekith seeks to restore that darkness -- using an ancient relic capable of turning matter into dark matter, called the Aether. If he succeeds, the results would be cataclysmic.

If there's one thing the film has going for it, it's its massive scale. Thor: The Dark World sets the stakes on a grand scale and director Alan Taylor (HBO's Game of Thrones) follows through by delivering a sequel with a scope that makes the first film feel small by comparison. After all, when the last major battle involving our hero was a full-scale alien invasion of New York City, there really isn't anywhere else to go but up. And up we go indeed -- whereas the first Thor film spotlighted only a couple of the Nine Realms (not counting Earth), this sequel adds a few more, including Vanaheim and Svartalfheim, home of the Dark Elves. To up the ante even more, we also get a healthy dose of intergalactic action, thanks to a few sequences involving the Dark Elves' spaceships. Producer Kevin Feige and Marvel are great at forming connections across their Cinematic Universe, and clearly this is a lead-up to what we can expect from next year's Guardians of the Galaxy.

It all feels like the unexpectedly satisfying fusion of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars that we never knew we wanted. From the landscapes of the other Realms and the Orc-like creatures called the Kursed to the Dark Elves' ships (which could pass for something designed by a Sith but crafted of materials from Middle Earth) and the turrets that defend Asgard from airborne attack -- there are strong influences at play here. Those influences go beyond the visual aesthetic of the film and extend into its overall tone and set pieces as well (the film's prologue, for example, bears strong overtones from that of The Fellowship of the Ring).

Influences from other Marvel projects also abound, especially in the humor department. In fact, when it comes to its sense of humor, Thor: The Dark World owes more to The Avengers than its predecessor. Despite the film's title, the mood is kept relatively light by the banter between characters -- especially interactions with Loki (Tom Hiddleston, as mischievous as ever), Darcy (Kat Dennings, as smart-ass as ever) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan "has anybody seen my pants" Skarsgård) -- and a steady stream of quips and gags (particularly when the film plays up the fish-out-of-water scenarios of Thor on Earth). In some ways, the humor in this film works better than in The Avengers, giving it an energy that only adds to the overall thrill of the ride.

What doesn't work as well is the film's central villain, the Dark Elf Malekith (former Doctor Who, Christoper Eccleston). Given the brevity of his spoken lines, it's doubtful that even David Tennant could save the character. Visually, he and the Dark Elves fit the bill of a menacing villain; but Malekith is entirely one-dimensional. In that respect, he's probably the weakest of all the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far; and he certainly doesn't exhibit the same depth of character as a villain like Loki (who still manages to steal the show here). The other returning characters from the first film -- save for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor's mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) -- don't have a lot to do though, other than being cogs in the plot's machinations. It is nice, however, to see a different side of Heimdall (Idris Elba) as we do here. It's just a shame that Sif, Volstagg and Fandral don't get more screen time. That goes double for Sif (Jaimie Alexander), as there is a missed opportunity to further explore the potential love triangle between her, Thor and Jane. It's also worth noting that Zachary Levi (of NBC's Chuck) takes over as Fandral in this instalment. Luckily, it's not as jarring a change as Don Cheadle stepping into Terrence Howard's boots as Rhodey in Iron Man 2, and casual fans probably won't even notice.

As for the 3D conversion, it dutifully does its job by adding some depth to the picture (particularly in the action sequences and in any scene involving the Aether) but it's not as immersive of an experience as the 3D presentation of The Avengers was (likely due to the aspect ratio differences between the two films). It's a nice-to-have for a film like this, but the 3D experience here isn't be-all/end-all. Thankfully, there are no deliberate cinematography choices made to capitalize on the use of 3D that would feel out of place in a 2D viewing.

The Bottom Line

Although its title may have you thinking that this sequel takes the The Empire Strikes Back route of being darker in tone -- Thor: The Dark World is a rousing and fun entry in the canon that is Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Despite its shortcomings -- a woefully underdeveloped villain and some missed opportunities with its secondary characters -- it has an energy and a momentum that keeps it deliriously entertaining through and through. And, like any good Marvel film, it deepens the lore of the franchise, leaving audiences anxious to find out where the next film will take them. Hardcore Marvel fans will want to see it in 3D just for the experience, but for everyone else, the 2D presentation will suffice. Just don't forget to stay all the way till the end for a few extra surprises (you know the drill by now) -- and remember: (The) Winter (Soldier) is Coming[★★★★]

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